The so-called Stoneyhill Resource and Recovery Park, or (a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet) incinerator, is said by SITA’s Martin Cracknell, Strategic Development Manager, to reduce the amount of Aberdeenshire household waste sent to landfill by 70%.
Sounds very good doesn’t it. Funny then that SITA are also seeking planning consent to extend the life of the tip by 14 years with their licence to dump 355,000 tons of rubbish a year… that must be the Aberdeen City, Highland and Perth rubbish then.
In practice incinerators always undermine efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. For example Dumfries and Galloway Council has abolished recycling of textiles, paper, card and plastic in order to feed the new Scotgen gasifier/incinerator.
This is a terrific waste of resources, as recycling these materials saves on average four times as much energy as can be retrieved by burning it.
In the past, some local authorities have considered incineration as a way of meeting European landfill reduction targets. Exceeding these targets incurs fines of £150 per tonne.
However these targets only apply to the biodegradable portion of municipal waste, i.e. the things that can rot and produce methane if buried in landfill. Biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) consists mainly of 5 things – paper, card, textiles, food and garden waste.
If local authorities do their best to recycle and compost these materials, they will never incur fines. The Scottish Government’s target of 70% recycling by 2025 is hopelessly unambitious.
South Oxfordshire District Council doubled its recycling to 71% in 2009, simply by switching to a different waste contractor (it is now up to 73%).
San Francisco City & County is recycling 77% and aims for 100% by 2020 with no incineration or landfill.
Why isn’t the Scottish Government similarly ambitious? Incineration is fundamentally unsustainable, recovering only a tenth of the energy used to make the products in our rubbish.
Of course, the incineration industry claims it only burns ‘residual’ waste, i.e. the things that cannot be recycled. However the experience of South Oxfordshire and San Francisco shows there are very few things that cannot be recycled, and the number is falling all the time.
Only last week it was announced that a plant would be opening soon in England to recycle disposable nappies and sanitary towels. For the very few things that still cannot be recycled, we need to compel manufacturers to re-design their products so they can be recycled easily, and adopt the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility.
Incineration is the most expensive way of treating waste by far, costing up to £151 per tonne.
That is why Lancashire County Council has rejected incineration in favour of intensive measures to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Last, but not least, there is the health issue. People can have no faith in the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to protect their health.
Mr Cracknell is quoted as saying that all emissions from the incinerator are closely monitored by SITA and SEPA.
Many of the most dangerous pollutants, such as dioxins and heavy metals, are in fact only measured twice a year.
A spot check of the Baldovie incinerator in Dundee in 2008 discovered emissions of dioxins at 102 times the legal (not safe) limit. Many dangerous pollutants are not measured at all.
I have written to Mr Cracknell with my concerns but his reply seems to have gone up in smoke.