Fact Sheet 6: Environmental Concerns

Have you ever wondered why environmental organisations have always opposed Energy from Waste incinerators? It is because despite the use of modern technology they still have major environmental impacts.

Incinerators do not provide a renewable source of energy through “capturing” the energy produced by burning waste. Proponents of ‘energy from waste’ incinerators claim that the electricity created when waste is burned is a type of renewable energy as it displaces the equivalent amount of electricity to be generated at a power station from fossil fuels.

The incineration of recyclable material actually results in even more fossil fuel energy being consumed. When materials are destroyed in incinerators, new ones have to be made to replace them. The extraction and processing of virgin materials uses huge amounts of energy as well as causing other environmental impacts. A Canadian study estimated that “on average, recycling saves three to five times as much energy as is produced by incinerating municipal solid waste.”

NYCC has used a model – WRATE to compare the environmentally impact of the proposed incinerator plant with other alternatives. This analysis is seriously flawed and recognised so by the Waste Industry and Government Agency WRAP as it does not consider the entire life cycle of products. WRAP have concluded that “In the vast majority of cases, the recycling of materials has greater environmental benefits than incineration or landfill”.

Currently electricity-only incinerators are worse than gas power stations for emitting CO2 33 percent more and only 40 per cent less than a coal power station. Clearly the energy captured from waste incineration and its emissions contribute to climate change rather than reducing it. This conflicts with NYCC and local District Councils’ policies on climate change as incineration will increase CO2 emissions enormously.

Incinerators destroy valuable materials that future generations might need. Incineration of household and commercial waste means that we use products once only and then destroy them. This is unsustainable when we live on a planet with finite resources. The move towards incineration rather than recycling is not a long term sustainable solution.

NYCC cannot be seriously considering that recycling rates will remain below 60% for the next 25 years? Already the Governments of Scotland and Wales have committed themselves to reaching 60% by 2020 and England is likely to go the same way. The proposed incinerator plans will undermine the Waste Partnership’s commitments to reduction, re-use and recycling because of the need to continuously feed it with large amounts of waste to burn.

Incinerators produce emissions of particulates, heavy metals and dioxins, all of which are potentially dangerous to human health. While the emissions from incinerators are subject to regulatory controls, this is not a guarantee that the standards set are adequate. It has recently been estimated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that they are 10 times more likely to cause cancer than was previously thought hence no incinerator has been built in the USA since 1995.

So to cut a long story short incineration is pretty nasty for the environment and many people have a very good reason to oppose their use. There are cheaper and more environmentally friendly solutions to deal with our waste than incineration.

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