Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he wants this Government to be the “the greenest government ever”. This includes “working towards a zero waste economy” as set out in the call for evidence in the DEFRA Waste inquiry. This means action at all stages of the waste hierarchy to achieve optimal waste management which reduces waste, ensures maximum re-use and recycling and deals with the residual wastes in an environmentally responsible manner that takes full and proper account of health risks. It also means taking full account of the UK’s obligations in respect of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
Chapter 7 of the UK Government Sustainable Development Strategy (Cm 6467) states that “The overall objective of government policy on waste is to protect human health and the environment by producing less waste and by using it as a resource wherever possible. Through more sustainable waste management – reduction, re-use, recycling, composting and using waste as a source of energy – the Government aims to break the link between economic growth and the environmental impact of waste.”
Incineration does nothing to help achieve any of these ambitions. Indeed, it runs counter to most of them.
Firstly, far from treating waste as a valuable resource, incineration actually destroys resources forever. The need to feed the incinerator with the required tonnage of waste reduces the incentive to recycle both for the council and for society as a whole. Once burnt, the resources lost must be replaced from virgin sources and the energy needed to extract and process the materials from these sources into useful product requires energy, negating the energy output from “Energy from Waste” incinerators.
Earlier Briefing Notes have set out the environmental and health risks of incineration and pointed out that other means of dealing with residual waste do not pose these risks. They also avoid the financial burden to society arising from these risks – for example costs to the NHS arising from incinerator-induced ill-health.
The UK has fully signed up to its international obligations to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Incineration is the worst alternative to landfill when it comes to GHG emissions and actually increases the UK’s emissions compared with using cleaner alternatives.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants actually bans even the accidental emission of dioxins and furans. Some might claim that the high combustion temperature of modern incinerators means that dioxins and furans are not emitted. However, this is misleading: a process known as novo synthesis takes place after the furnace at which dioxins form at approx. 300-4000C as the air cools. This occurs inside the incinerator, and explains why dioxins are found both in incinerator fly-ash and in emissions to air. Hence, there are emissions of dioxins.
Thus incineration of waste runs counter both to the government’s green ambitions and credentials and to the UK’s international obligations. There are cleaner, greener (and cheaper) alternatives that are more in line with David Cameron’s aspirations for a “green” government and adopting these would contribute to, not hinder, meeting our international obligations.
Incineration runs counter to other national policies and international obligations.
Do you think that is what the people of York and North Yorkshire would want?