Viridor’s figures show that their south London plant is pumping out three times as much CO2 as other, similar facilities. By PAUL LUSHION, environment correspondent
The Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane, operated on behalf of Croydon and three other south London boroughs, is releasing as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the emissions from 200,000 family cars in a year.
That’s the shock finding from a report from the Environment Agency – who have nonetheless just given operators Viridor permission to burn even more polluting rubbish every year.
The figures suggest that the Beddington incinerator is three times more polluting than similar plants operated by Viridor.
Such high levels of emissions could wreck the “good intentions” of Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston – the four boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership, the commissioners of the Beddington incinerator – who have all declared a climate emergency and set targets to be carbon neutral, in some cases within 10 years.
The Environment Agency says that the Viridor plant produced 236,396 tonnes of CO2 in 2019, the year it was first fully operational. The figures are based on Viridor’s own monitoring.
The Beddington incinerator compares badly against a similar-sized plant in Runcorn, Cheshire, which produced two-thirds less CO2 despite burning several times more waste. That’s about the average for what Viridor shamelessly describe as “Energy from Waste plants”.
The Beddington incinerator produces some electricity, but if its carbon emissions are compared to an old-fashioned coal-fired power station, it fares badly again.
Coal produces 870 grams of CO2 per unit of electricity produced (the fossil carbon intensity). Beddington produces 1,302 grams per unit, 67 per cent more pollution than an already outdated method (gas-fuelled electricity is 350 gCO2/kWh, or about four times less than Beddington).
During the planning process for the Beddington incinerator, the public was assured that it was the best environmental solution for dealing with waste. Jim Duffy, one of the campaigners who has opposed the development, said, “The incinerator is pumping out way too much greenhouse gas.
“Across Europe there are recycycling alternatives which are achieving great rates of 85 per cent. Here, south London boroughs such as Sutton and Croydon are managing to recycle only around half of their waste.
“Recycling produces very little CO2 and materials are kept within the Circular Economy. We don’t need this polluting incinerator and we should take plastic out of its feedstock now to get these figures down straight away, and aim to close it in due course.”
The Environment Agency provided Viridor’s CO2 figures to Shlomo Dowen, the coordinator of UK Without Incineration. Dowen said, “Viridor should be required to offer a clear and verifiable explanation for the disturbingly high CO2 figures that they supplied to the regulator.”
Given Viridor’s figures, it makes the decision of the Environment Agency in December to increase the amount it burns each year all the more unjustifiable.
The EA granted Viridor’s request for a 50,000-tonne increase the incinerator could burn in a year, up to 347,000 tonnes per year. The agency did not consult on the increase with local councils or residents.
At the SLWP meeting last month, the councillors representing the four boroughs were not even aware the decision had already been made. Every councillor who spoke was against the increase and the committee pledged to meet the Environment Agency to discuss the increase.
Duffy called the manoeuvre by Viridor “outrageous”. He said, “Viridor must have known about its high carbon emissions but had the gall to ask to burn even more waste.”
Peter Underwood, the Green Party candidate in Croydon and Sutton in May’s London Assembly elections, said, “If the councils are serious about meeting their Climate Emergency declarations, then they have to plan to close the incinerator by 2030.
“That means they need to start introducing changes now to reduce the amount of waste we produce and increase the amount we re-use and recycle.
“Carrying on as before is not an option.”
Read more: London’s toxic air is ‘a public health emergency’ says charity
Read more: Incinerator is ‘as polluting as coal-fired power stations’
Read more: Senior LibDem dined with Viridor days before incinerator vote
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