Mass-burn incineration is an inefficient method of waste disposal and energy recovery compared with more modern technologies, such as Advanced Thermal Treatment (ATT) (Front page, 28 December). Anaerobic Digestion (AD) offers only a partial solution and limited alternative to mass-burn.
ATT offers a more efficient energy conversion to useful energy than mass burn, better opportunities for combined heat and power, lower capital and operating costs per tonne of waste processed and per unit of heat and power output, and the ability to process any carbonaceous, non-recyclable waste. Plants, being small and local, have a small footprint for waste deliveries and process a wide range of local wastes.
The Government has recognised the benefits of ATT through offering incentives under Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) and has been encouraging Combined Heat and Power (CHP).
To abandon these policies now just when they are about to bear fruit in terms of delivery of technologies and consented sites shows a lack of foresight and is a betrayal of those who have invested heavily in bringing these opportunities forward predicated on clear government encouragement. Again, UK investment is wasted in the interests of short-termism.
Building 10 small, local ATT plants rather than one big mass burn incinerator makes social, environmental, energy, economic and political sense.
West Linton, Peeblesshire
The Heath Protection Agency statement refers only to "any potential damage from well-regulated incinerators, being very small, and undetectable", this based on the little information they have, but they should demand full pollution data instead of making such guesstimates.
Regarding the waste companies' enthusiasm for incineration, one notes that this enthusiasm does not extend to the scrutiny of the emissions. All incinerators, planned and existing, and co-incinerators such as the Cemex Rugby cement factory burning 400,000 tonnes of "waste" a year, should have real-time pollution monitors fitted, with the live data made publicly available. The use of the Amesa dioxin continuous sampler should also be a condition of any permission.
At present, data is not made available and emission limit values do not apply during start-ups and shut-downs, or during periods of instability. The extra costs involved would have to be factored in, but perhaps then the incinerator industry would be able to convince the public that the emissions are harmless, or is it more likely they would withdraw their applications?
Friends of the Earth (FoE) are right to point out that the UK's waste incinerators emit more CO2 per MWH than the power stations whose electricity they supply. They do not contribute to reducing global warming. This is because mixed (municipal) waste is a poor fuel. Energy is wasted driving water out of parts of the mixture that are wet (food waste), and heating the non-combustible parts (more than 25 per cent of it) to over 850C.
For many years in the 1990s and early 2000s, FoE opposed incinerators on the false grounds that they pollute. Even before the 2005 EU Waste Incineration Directive, but more especially after it, the levels of emissions waste incinerators are permitted to release, especially dioxins, are vanishingly small.
Many permitted emissions are lower than from conventional (fossil fuel) power stations. In an industrial area, their contribution to background pollution is negligible. Even elsewhere an incinerator operating to its legal limits will not affect public health.
But so successful were FoE that the widespread public perception in the UK (but not over all of Europe) is that waste incineration is dirty and polluting and people don't want it near where they live.
The best way to reduce carbon emissions is to design Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants. But for CHP, you need long-term customers for heat. Unless the CHP plant is for a heavily industrialised area where there is an unmet demand for steam, this means building district heating schemes around incinerators.
The irony is that the public opposition to incinerators on health grounds makes it very difficult to find acceptable sites for them near urban areas where district heating would be viable, unlike in some European conurbations.
Revd Dr Andrew Craig
Cable betrayed; so did reporters
Mr Humphreys (Letters, 29 December) and others who complain about the deception played on Cable by The Telegraph reporters have got it back to front. Cable and his Liberal Democrat turncoats are the ones who have set the trend by cheating their way into power and betraying the trust of those (like me) who made the mistake of voting for them.
They are the ones who have blithely jettisoned their supposed principles, and even their most solemn promises, in their grubby scramble to sup at the table with Cameron's cronies. Why would anyone ever believe anything any of them says again?
Cable has simply been treated by The Telegraph reporters with the same contempt he and his mates have displayed for the electorate. He certainly deserves nothing better. If politicians want respect, then they should stick to their promises, or go back to the electorate before changing them.
Before this year's General Election, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes was among the politicians who signed the NUS pledge to vote against any increases in tuition fees.
When it came to the recent Commons vote to increase tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes abstained from voting.
On becoming the Government's new Advocate for Access to Education, the self-same Hughes has now become a partisan for the tuition fees, "regretting" the coalition's decision to increase tuition fees but insisting that young people now needed to "understand the facts".
I think people, young and old, will "understand the facts" about Hughes and his Damascene conversion vis-a-vis tuition fees all to well. He has taught us the "facts" about just what a Liberal Democrat "pledge" is worth.
So Simon Hughes becomes another government tsar. I am sure that members of the Romanov family are pleased that their brand is still popular, even if all these tsars are being appointed to advocate things which the last real Tsar was shot for opposing.
But some of the Grand Dukes would have been vaguely sympathetic, and it might be better to think of Mr Hughes as one of them. It lends a more popular touch.
Brighton, East Sussex
Hits and myths of the Nativity
Although Colin Nevin's letter about the Nativity (31 December) corrects myths about the "Three Kings" he repeats the story that Jesus was born in a stable.
In fact, all Matthew's Gospel states is that he was laid in a manger, which for the poorer people at this time may have been used to put babies in because, presumably, they did not have cots from Mothercare.
Interestingly, considering the prominence given to the birth of Jesus by the Christian churches, only two of the four gospels actually mention the event.
I had to laugh when I read Colin Nevin's letter pointing out inaccuracies in the general portrayal of the Nativity. The delicious absurdity of complaining about "fictitious embellishments and mere legend" rather than the facts as set out in the Bible is priceless.
A fictitious embellishment of a fictitious embellishment; where will it all end? But on a serious note, anyone who sees ancient scriptures as sources of "true facts" is in danger of serious self-delusion, regardless of faith. Take the Bible literally, and it's only a short step to dangerous and violent fundamentalism.
Is NHS quietly going private?
I noticed in The Independent (26 November) that Hinchingbroke NHS Trust was to be taken over by a private hospital operator. Then in The Cornishman newspaper (23 December) I saw that the Edward Hain Hospital in St Ives was to be semi-privatised from next April.
I don't know whether I have been asleep but was this policy of privatising the NHS in the Conservative Party manifesto? Have any of your other readers noticed in their local newspapers any more creeping privatisation? It would be interesting to know how widespread this is.
I feel almost nothing but sympathy for the staff at the German Transport Ministry, who must now live in fear of the accidental utterance of an English word, lest their pure tongue become corrupted by foreign influence. Almost? Well, I must also confess to a slight pang of schadenfreude.
What a shocker
Imagine my surprise at learning that research at the Brigham Young University School of Family Life has determined that avoiding sex before marriage results in happier and stabler marriages and better sex (report, 28 December). Who would have expected that result from such a disinterested source?
The heart melts
Your Obituary section (30 December) failed to mention the passing of my snowman Frosty, whose short life gave us so much pleasure. Born 22 December, carrot nose fell out 27 December, deceased into slush 29 December. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
Perspectives on herbal medicine
Protest about the EU ban threat
The Independent's coverage of the threat to herbal medicine is very welcome. I urge anyone who has ever benefited from taking herbs to write to the Department of Health to express their concern about the effect the EU directive will have on their opportunities to benefit from herbs in the future.
But it is not fair to imply that herbal medicine does not have research backing; textbooks used by students on herbal medicine degree courses list several thousand research trials, although not all of them are in English. Up-to-date research work into plant medicines is reported at least monthly by several academic journals.
People who have consulted a medical herbalist will appreciate that they are prescribed a combination of herbs specifically for them, at that time, treating their immediate symptoms and their underlying cause.
The bespoke nature of the medicine with the facility to alter quantities and concentrations is one of its many strengths.
Removing herbs from healing would be a very serious loss.
Medical Herbalist, Hampton, Middlesex
Our rights are being invaded yet again
The forthcoming ban of herbal remedies represents a major extension of the interference of the state in people's lives. It is certainly not in the interests of the users of these remedies who are quite capable of looking after themselves.
There is more reason on safety grounds to ban cars or close down hospitals. It is a matter of vested interests. So why are you giving space to the propaganda of the medical-pharmaceutical complex through Professor Ernst?
You should ask what proportion of NHS-funded treatments have "full proof of efficacy": the last I heard, it totalled a mere 30 per cent.
The Callistherapy Foundation, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire