Letter: Efficient recycling

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The Independent Online
Sir: Ray Palin, director of the Energy from Waste Association is right to point out (Letters, 17 September) the overriding need to reduce waste, but wrong to champion the waste incineration option. Incinerators are complex technology. They cost millions to set up and so the operators require very long waste supply contracts (25-30 years) to justify the huge outlay. Moreover, Coopers & Lybrand's recent report to the EC found that incineration creates less employment than recycling, requires more transport (generating extra carbon dioxide), and undermines recycling.

Germany is some years ahead of Britain in recycling waste - their problems today could be our problems in five years. They are now recycling efficiently to such an extent that their waste volumes have decreased by 16 per cent in the three years after 1990.

To prevent their expensive incinerators lying idle they are now forced to import waste from as far away as Brazil to keep their incinerators operating. Landfill sites are still required for the remnant toxic incinerator ash.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, a report in the current issue of The Ecologist highlights the poor safety performance of some British municipal incinerators as well as the dangers to health associated with the dioxins produced by the incineration process. On economic, environmental and health grounds, incineration - even when opportunistically renamed "energy from waste" - is not a viable option. We should seek instead to drastically reduce waste, promote recycling and re-use, while developing small and safe composting and anaerobic digestion systems.

Dr DAVID CROMWELL

Southampton, Hampshire

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