Incinerator operators Viridor cash-in on pollution tax loophole

Allowing climate-damaging emissions from incinerators to go untaxed is ‘shameful’ according to environmental campaigner

Companies running waste incinerators, including Viridor, the operators of the polluting Beddington Lane incinerator, dodged more than £500million of pollution charges for burning plastic last year because of a “loophole” in government policy.

Dirty protest: Sutton Council has ignored all objections to allowing Viridor to run their polluting incinerator at Beddington

That’s according to a report from the Open Democracy website.

Viridor was the biggest beneficiary of the legislative loophole, which saw them avoid any requirement to buy pollution permits under the government’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

Viridor, a subsidiary of US-based global investment firm KKR, made profits of £222million for the last year for which figures are publicly available.

Under a 25-year contract to burn rubbish at Beddington for the South London Waste Partnership, which includes Croydon Council, Sutton, Merton and Kingston, Viridor are expected to be paid £1billion.

Yet according to Open Democracy analysis, Viridor was exempted from more than £73million in pollution permit charges, based on reports the company submitted to the Environment Agency.

The Beddington incinerator pumped 136,000 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) into the atmosphere last year, which would have cost the firm around £10million in pollution permits if it had been included in the ETS.

Beddington also breached the legal limit for emissions of carbon monoxide and other noxious chemicals eight times last year, as Inside Croydon has reported.

In one episode in 2022, the Viridor-run incinerator went more than seven times over internationally recommended emissions levels for hydrogen chloride.

Hydrogen chloride is the chemical normally used in the production of potentially deadly hydrochloric acid.

As well as Viridor, other operators allowed to avoid payments for emissions from burning plastic include Veolia and Suez.

Open Democracy says it has obtained documents which show that a waste industry trade group, the Environmental Services Association, is lobbying the government to allow its members to keep burning plastic without paying for the pollution for at least five more years.

Delaying the introduction for another five years would save the waste industry approximately £2.5billion. The polluting companies are threatening to pass any increase in environment taxes on to their customers – mostly local councils such as Croydon and Sutton

The government’s Emissions Trading Scheme requires companies to buy permits for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

The scheme is based on the principle of “polluter pays”, incentivising greener alternatives. But it doesn’t apply to incinerators that burn household waste to make electricity because their primary purpose is waste management – not electricity generation.

Open Democracy has found some Energy from Waste incinerators produce more CO2 per unit of electricity generated than coal-fired power plants, yet still claim to be “renewable”.

In 2022, incinerators emitted 7million tonnes of fossil-based CO2, which was almost entirely due to the burning of plastic.

Toxic: the polluting Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane

The average price of a single pollution permit that year was £79.20. Open Democracy says: “Companies would have spent around £554million if plastic-based incinerator emissions had been covered.”

One anti-pollution campaigner called the loophole “shameful”.

Shlomo Dowen, the national coordinator for the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network said, “The public are unfairly subsiding incineration by paying the cost that should be borne by those profiting from the pollution.

“Inclusion of incineration in the UK ETS would be a welcome start to addressing this injustice.

“The current loophole that allows climate-damaging emissions from incinerators to continue to go untaxed is shameful.”

Read more: Viridor incinerator fined for multiple pollution permit breaches
Read more: ‘People will die’: Dombey accused of Viridor ‘Faustian pact’
Read more: Heat network’s plan depends on 75 homes that don’t exist
Read more: Viridor breaking rules over incinerator’s pollution reports

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3 Responses to Incinerator operators Viridor cash-in on pollution tax loophole

  1. derekthrower says:

    All those crumbs thrown around by Viridor have proven to be worthwhile then.

  2. The Environment Agency is a laughing stock. Bright young things considering a career with the circus are told that:

    – “We help people and wildlife adapt to climate change and reduce its impacts, including flooding, drought, sea level rise and coastal erosion.”

    Bollocks. They’ve done next to nothing on all of these risks, as evidenced by floods in the last decade and last year’s drought and those forecast to come.

    – “We improve the quality of our water, land and air by tackling pollution.”

    Bollocks again. Our rivers are routinely contaminated with sewage and air quality in our cities is well below World Health Organisation safety limits.

    – “We work with businesses to help them comply with environmental regulations.”

    Triple bollocks. Whether it’s privatised water companies, incinerator owners or the mass poisoning at Teeside freeport, businesses are getting away with ecocide.

    Toothless regulatory bodies like the Agency are just a fig-leaf for rampant capitalism that’s destroying our country at our expense.

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