No to waste incineration!9th January 2021
Around the world, waste incineration has become a popular way to deal with all sorts of waste, including plastics. As awareness of the impacts of plastic pollution has grown, government policies have generally sought to deal with symptoms and hide problems rather than provide genuine solutions. Good for business, bad for health.
When China stopped taking plastic waste from countries such as the UK, such waste was pushed onto poor countries, sometimes illegally. These countries would not have the infrastructure to deal with such waste. Negative health and environmental impacts ensued. A good example is Turkey. They have a 1% recycling rate of their own domestic waste, yet UK councils including Swindon Borough Council, were sending plastic waste there through outsourced companies including Public Power Solutions and Thamesdown Recycling. The Basel Convention sought to end rich countries literally dumping on poor countries. Awareness of and opposition to these policies increased. Along with awareness of the problems of landfill, it helped change the means of waste disposal, although illegal dumping of plastic waste by the UK and other countries continues.
The video above by Swindon Borough Council provides an overview of the SRF plant at Cheney Manor. Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) and Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) plants are used to transform waste into supposed fuels. The creation and use of RDF / SRF is supported by industry bodies. Yet the use of RDF/SRF means continuing to burn plastics and so continues reliance on fossil sources of fuel. Swindon’s SRF is sent to Eastern Europe to be burnt in cement kilns. There is growing concern about the health impacts of using waste-based fuels in cement kilns. This article on the use of RDF in cement kilns in Spain explains why.
Swindon Borough Council claim in their draft carbon reduction strategy that the SRF plant is one of “a number of initiatives that continue to benefit the Council, its residents and the wider borough”. They also claim in the video above that the SRF plant is better for the environment than burying waste. We challenge both of those assertions. The promotion of SRF plants as environmentally and socially beneficial enables an unhealthy, polluting system to continue.
The impacts of creating and using SRF are not made clear by Swindon Borough Council. It is noted that there is no mention in the video above of the energy requirements of the plant, toxic emissions of the 'fuel' and the plant, the impacts of transportation, and the impacts on the people who live in the areas where this 'fuel' is burnt. Swindon Borough Council's Planning Committee voted unanimously against building a waste incinerator at South Marston, yet send Swindon's SRF to be incinerated in another country, producing toxic emissions. The message that needs to be communicate is that we need to stop producing toxic materials / waste in the first place, as there are no adequate measures to deal with it.
Waste incineration has more than doubled in the UK between 2014 and 2017 and is currently the preferred method of waste disposal. Incinerating waste is a poor source of energy. It pollutes the environment with highly toxic and persistent chemicals such as dioxins and furans, as well as toxic ash and heavy metals. This has many negative outcomes:
- Air pollution contributes to disease and death. Within the South West region, Swindon has relatively high mortality rates from air pollution.. The introduction of legal limits has not prevented unacceptable levels of air pollution - these limits have been regularly breached for years.
- Burning plastic contributes to climate change; On average 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced for every metric ton of plastic burned (after energy recovery is taken into account).
- Recent reports show our rivers are highly polluted with persistent chemicals, causing disease and suffering for humans and wildlife. We are largely constituted of water. Pollute water and we pollute ourselves and other beings. For example, toxic chemicals can accumulate in female seal’s milk and then be transferred onto pups.
- Pollution of soil from substances such as plastics has many negative impacts. Such toxic chemicals poison soils, depleting fertility and harming the ecology in many ways. For example: On industrial farms in the UK, many of the soils have become depleted by the use of toxic chemicals. Hedgehog populations have declined as there are no longer enough worms in the soil to sustain them.
In South Marston, Swindon, a waste-to-energy incinerator application has been approved despite strong local opposition to it by SKIP (Stop Keypoint Incinerator Project), residents, and councillors. The imminent closure of Honda means the departure of an obvious potential client for cheap electricity - this might well reduce the viability of the proposed plant. Next steps are in the hands of developers although public opposition can play a key part in stopping these projects going ahead (see action at the bottom of the page).
A waste-to-energy incinerator is also planned for neighbouring Westbury, around 40 miles from Swindon. We stand in solidarity with the Westbury Gasificaton Action Group (WGAG), other groups and communities opposed to its construction. And we support the work of the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), part of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), in opposing the construction and use of waste incinerators.
It’s clear that we cannot continue with the current methods of production and waste disposal; false solutions to plastic and other pollution. We support UKWIN's proposals to reduce waste incineration; an incineration tax and a moratorium on new incinerators. We support the aims set out in the Plastic Pollution Bill and a system of zero waste that includes effective regulation on synthetic chemicals.
For further information on waste incineration, see the 'incineration' section of the library.
- Take UKWIN's simple action to call for a moratorium on new waste incineration capacity.
- Sign and share this petition to remove the incentive for waste incineration through taxing incineration.
- Take our simple action to write to local representatives (MPs, councillors, parish councilors) to ask that they oppose the construction and use of waste incinerators.
- Support the Westbury Gasificaton Action Group (WGAG) by sharing info and getting involved in actions.