Concerns grow over 'Landfill in the Sky'

Friends of the Earth urge recycling over incineration

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Ealing Friends of the Earth


Concern about what is being described as 'landfill in the sky' is prompting questions about plans to build a massive incinerator in Colnbrook in Slough to despose of West London's rubbish.

These are being considered by the West London Waste Authority (WLWA) as an option for disposal of waste. It is not permissable to build incinerators in the metropolitan London area hence the consideration being given to Slough as a site.

There are 6 boroughs who are members of the WLWA. They are Ealing, Hounslow, Hillingdon, Richmond, Brent and Harrow. WLWA takes all the domestic waste collected by the 6 boroughs and disposes of it, achieving economies of scale and concentration of expertise. It has a board which consists of a member (councillor) from each of the councils concerned.

The reason an incinerator is being considered is that local authorities are being given stricter targets to reduce the amount of landfill that they use. Financial penalites will come into play if these targets aren't reached. If Councils beat their targets they will be able to 'trade' their landfill quota with other authorities giving a potential source of revenue.

Ken Livingstone has responded to concerns about the plans by issuing a directive requiring greater attention to be given to air quality issues, "West London Waste Authority must ensure that they manage their waste in a sustainable way and therefore I am requiring that they carry out an assessment of environmental options and that they produce a waste management strategy that is both good for London and its neighbours."

Nic Ferriday, for Ealing Friends of the Earth commented "A strong anti-incinerator campaign has developed in Slough, where the effect would be most strongly felt. But the Borough of Ealing is only about 10 miles downwind so it too would suffer from the fallout of noxious gases and particulates."

Although the Councils involved in the WLWA cannot directly control the planning permission or operation of an incinerator at Colnbrook, they have an important influence on whether it will be built. Grundon, the company wishing to build the incinerator, is lobbying the councils in the WLWA to sign a long-term contract to incinerate waste.

Nic Ferriday continued, "we have urged council to reject the incineration option, with all its health risks and other downsides. Instead, we encouraged them to press forward with measures to reduce the amount of waste and to increase dramatically the proportion that is recycled and composted. If these were done, there would be no need for incineration. "

Friends of the Earth say that incineration has a long list a negative impacts most notably the effect it will have on air quality. As well as particulates and nitrogen oxides there will be heavy metals such as mercury and radioactive materials issued into the atmosphere.

They point to a comprehensive study of the effects of incinerators St Niklaas in Belgium which showed that childhood cancers increased after 5 years and adult cancers doubled after 13 years. Other studies have shown links between incinerators and heart disease and birth defects.

They have dismissed arguments that the new generation of incinerators are clean and subject to much stricter emission controls pointing to the lack of research into how safe they are and the lack of prosecution for the consistent breaches of guidelines that have taken place.

The arguments that incinerators are justified because they produce energy from waste are dismissed because the amount of electricity actually generated is minimal.

The building of the incinerator would mean that Councils would need to sign long term contracts to ensure the viability of the plant which Friends of the Earth say would reduce the incentive for them to encourage recycling. They also suggest that boroughs would become liable should emission standards become more stringent in the future.

If the project proceeds then protests are likely to intensify. Several proposals in the UK for incinerators have been abandoned and in Acerra near Naples in Italy riot police had to be called in as demonstrators attempted to stop construction work on a project. The Slough scheme is deeply unpopular locally and the loss of control of the Council by Labour has been attributed to the incinerator plans.

As an alternative Ealing Friends of the Earth are urging the authorities look at what they describe as the 'pathetic' levels of recycling at the moment. Ealing Borough recycles and composts 20% of waste currently with a target of 30% in 2005/06. Other countries and towns have achieved recycling rates of 50% The WLWA rate is currently only 17%

They are urging that a waste strategy be adopted with better communication with the public and more door-to-door collections.

November 26, 2004