Buckfastleigh Transition Town – for a sustainable future for Buckfastleigh, Devon
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  • BTT Say No to Waste Incineration (EfW)!

    Posted on January 17th, 2013 andy 1 comment

    …and not just Not In Our Back Yard

    Regarding the proposed ‘Energy from Waste’ (EfW) incinerator in Devonport, Plymouth, and the corresponding proposal for a ‘Incinerator Bottom Ash’ (IBA) waste ‘recycling’ site in Buckfastleigh.

    As you will remember, the local community fought a long and united campaign against the proposed site in Buckfastleigh which led to Devon County Council rejecting the planning application last year, and much has been rightly said during this campaign about truck movements, noise, localised pollution and the toxicity (or otherwise) of Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA)…

    I noted however,  that during the planning decision process there was no debate at any point about the concept of ‘energy from waste’ in principle – indeed it has always been presented and viewed by all parties at the table as desirable – a way of not only minimising landfill, but also generating electricity. It is marketed as a ‘green’ & ‘renewable’  technology, and on the face of it seems to be a win-win solution; providing both waste-disposal and energy generation. The battle was mainly fought, and won, on the effects that the proposed site would have on our local community.

    Unfortunately this issue has once again raised it’s head, as the company planning to build the incinerator has appealed the council’s decision. I feel it may be useful to broaden the scope of the discussion, and justify why we felt that the correct decision was made in the first instance, not just for Buckfastleigh, but for our community as a whole.

    BTT members researched this technology in great detail when the Plymouth incinerator was originally proposed and came to the conclusion that this is a case of smoke (and mirrors) marketing. But there is no smoke without fire and we would like to demonstrate that EfW is not quite the green solution that it purports to be.

    Power Generation?
    Firstly, this is not a replacement for current electricity generating stations. The amount of energy produced by such a project (25mw) is very low compared to the equivalent produced by a similarly-priced coal or gas powered generating station (a fossil-fuelled generating station would produce 10 to 20 times more power for the same build cost) and considerably lower than equivalent clean, renewable energy sources such as wind or hydro – in fact these plants have the highest investment cost of any of the electricity generating technologies (except for offshore tidal and wave)2 – higher even than new nuclear3 and the highest running costs of all the ‘renewable’ energy production methods2.
    This is due to the fact that it takes a great deal of energy to maintain the temperatures needed to burn what is basically non-flammable waste, so much of the energy produced is needed just to propogate the incineration process.

    The cost of building the plant is approx £320 million – if the priority is energy generation, there are far more effective and cost-effective (and greener) technologies…

    We need to be aware that this is not actually an effective electricity generating method – presenting it like this is a distraction from what is really an attempt to dispose of waste in a way that avoids land-fill taxes and goes some way to hitting government land-fill reduction targets.

    Waste Reduction, Not Waste Disposal…
    In the light of this, we must be clear that this is a method that merely reduces waste – it is not waste disposal. Up to a third (by weight) of the initial non-flammable waste still remains after the incineration process, which is effectively being land-filled in the proposed processing sites (since there is no proven current market for such by-product). And some of it is pretty nasty stuff!

    Greenhouse Gas Production
    In terms of  the global warming crisis, this so-called ‘green solution’ is clearly part of the problem. Burning unwanted stuff merely adds large amounts of greenhouse gases which contribute to the escalation of planetary warming.

    Hazardous Waste
    The toxicity to the environment of the process must also be taken into account. Apart from exhaust gases and the IBA, there is also a toxic particulate component known as ‘fly ash’, amounting to as much as 5% of the residual waste, that is filtered from the flue, which has seldom been mentioned. This would have to be transported by road, and stored securely (at some unspecified location in the North of England) for an indefinite period (similarly to nuclear waste) as it contains hazardous materials that are very harmful to life and the environment.

    A Wasted Investment…
    Teignbridge (where the waste residue would be taken to) is an exemplary area when it comes to waste reduction, and has one of the highest recycling rates in the country- areas such as Plymouth and Torquay (where most of the waste would come from) have a long way to go to match this, as do the majority of other areas.

    It is clear that Teignbridge’s success in reducing the amount of waste produced, should be a model for what we need to aim to achieve throughout the county and country, in order to ameliorate the effects of global warming and reduce our consumption of more and more limited (and expensive) natural resources.

    In Germany (and some other European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden), where the technology and the company who are planning to build this plant come from, there is already an overcapacity for waste incineration, as their waste reduction and recycling policies become more effective – they are now having to import waste (a lot of it from the UK currently) to keep their fires burning!4  Where they will get their waste from if we in the UK go ahead with the up-to one hundred proposed EfW plants is unknown…

    It is our opinion that the so-called energy from waste project stems from an blinkered and short term mindset – it is in fact an investment in the continued production of waste. If, as must be our goal, our production of waste as a community is further reduced over time, then the material needed to feed these installations will become increasingly scarce. This ‘EfW’ concept is an attempt at a technological ‘quick-fix’ which unfortunately does not address the more challenging underlying issues that we need to overcome and in fact causes more potential problems than it solves.

    Investment in the Future.
    In our opinion this investment – £95 million from the public purse1, and many millions more towards other proposed projects of this kind around the country – would be more effectively used promoting measures to reduce the amount of waste produced and to further improve the rate of reuse and recycling that we already have, as well as investment into more effective and ‘true-green’ truly-renewable alternative energy sources.

    Andy Stokes
    Buck the Trend, Buckfasteigh

    1. http://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/energy/mvv-receives-green-light-for-first-uk-incinerator
    2. http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/studies/doc/renewables/2011_financing_renewable.pdf
    3. http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/reports/EconomicsBriefing.pdf
    4. http://ukwin.org.uk/2012/08/28/2011-sita-discussion-of-european-incineration-overcapacity/