Michael McCarthy: What's the official line on incinerators? There isn't one

Campaigners stress this is a huge waste of money – an incinerator can cost £100m – which will be diverted from recycling

Share
Related Topics

If you think local people don't like windfarms in their backyard, try building a waste incinerator. Invariably, wherever local councils or waste management companies try to site an incinerator, it is greeted with opposition from communities which is furious, intense, and organised. Local residents simply will not have that tall chimney in their neighbourhood spewing out God-knows-what into the air that their children breathe, never mind the 10 per cent it will knock off their house prices. Would you?

The fear of toxic pollution, especially from the group of potentially harmful chemicals known as dioxins which are produced in the combustion process, seems to be at the core of local people's opposition. Twenty years ago dioxins were one of the environmental movement's bogey words, but gradually their presence has come to be used as less of a warning – they're produced whenever you light a bonfire, and the evidence for human harm, apart from in large-scale exposure like that in the 1976 Seveso chemical plant explosion in Italy, is unclear. But there are still lots of nasty substances inside an incinerator.

Environmentalists who oppose incineration put less stress on pollution these days – for example, the possibility of toxic emissions is only given as the fifth out of six reasons for opposing burning by the UK Without Incineration Network. This is partly because the big (and very expensive) filters on modern incinerator chimneys can capture most pollutants. Campaigners stress instead that incineration is a misguided strategy and a waste of large sums of money (a big incinerator can cost up to £100m), cash which will only be diverted from recycling efforts and attempts at waste minimisation.

Local councils, on the other hand, favour incinerators because they think they will help them meet their liabilities under the EU's Landfill Directive, which is remorselessly squeezing down the amount of rubbish they can dump in holes in the ground. Sending waste to landfill is increasingly expensive because of the UK's own landfill tax, never mind fines which might be on the way from Europe for missed targets. And waste management companies which make incinerators are naturally pushing their products for commercial reasons.

Where does the Government stand? The Health Protection Agency came close to giving incineration a clean bill of health in 2009 when it reported: "Modern, well-managed incinerators make only a small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants. It is possible that such small additions could have an impact on health but such effects, if they exist, are likely to be very small and not detectable."

But as for the Government's own view, it is curiously hard to say. If you look at the waste management policy section of the website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, you can't really find any reference to incineration as a policy measure, although the Government is committed to a "zero waste" minimisation strategy.

Waste management was one of the real success stories of the last government, which in a mere decade managed to raise the amount of household waste going for recycling from 4 per cent in 2000 to nearly 40 per cent now, and was aiming for 50 per cent by 2020.

But the Coalition has declined to embrace this target, and instead the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, has announced a review of waste policy, which will be published next year.

Presumably something about incineration will have to be said then. In the meantime, it seems that the Government's policy, as the supersmooth mandarin Sir Humphrey Appleby once announced in Yes, Minister, is to have no policy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future