Halt roll-out of new waste incinerators, MPs warn amid protests at disposal site in North London

Government has approved 50 new or expanded incinerators which will be built over the next decade

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Tuesday 14 December 2021 17:04
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<p>Protestors outside the Edmonton waste facility on Monday</p>

Protestors outside the Edmonton waste facility on Monday

Days ahead of a critical vote on plans to expand a controversial waste incinerator in Edmonton, North London, MPs have told the government all such expansions must be paused, and their environmental impact reassessed.

A report by the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution has called for a moratorium on all additional incinerator capacity, warning that “hundreds” of different pollutants can be emitted when waste is burnt.

The report notes that over the past decade England has seen “a flatlining of recycling, an increase in incineration, and a reduction in landfill”.

The publication of the report comes after the UK government gave approval to 50 new waste incineration plants, which will double the volume of energy-from-waste incineration by 2030.

It also comes as Extinction Rebellion activists staged a protest at the Edmonton site, which if given the green light, could burn up to 700,000 tonnes of waste a year.

The chair of the parliamentary group, MP Geraint Davies, said the rollout of numerous incineration facilities “is naturally of concern with respect to both human health and climate change”.

In particular the report warns about the hazards of “ultrafine particles” which can be released by incineration.

It cites studies showing that in Italy, toenail samples from children living close to waste incinerators revealed significantly heightened exposure to heavy metals including copper, manganese and nickel, which have been linked to cancer, heart defects, and other developmental problems.

Activists and campaigners in North London have expressed outrage at the prospect of greater levels of pollution and carbon emissions in the area.

Ben Griffith from Islington Environment Emergency Forum told the Enfield Independent that Islington Council “needs to decide whether it wishes to act over the climate emergency or if it’s going to continue with business as usual on a route that was set years ago”.

“We are horrified at the thought of an even bigger waste incinerator and the carbon emissions and pollution that would result,” he said.

The report also suggests that local authorities could be encouraged to incinerate their waste, as it is not a taxed form of waste disposal.

“Landfills are taxed at £96.7 per tonne but incinerators are not subject to any economic instrument to encourage abatement beyond permitted levels. And they face no economic instruments to pay for climate change,” the report said.

Recommending a moratorium on incineration expansion, Mr Davies said: “The UK government’s strategy needs fundamental change to decrease not increase overall waste incineration, in line with efforts to drive down the production of waste and increase reuse and recycling, towards a sustainable future that fully respects human health and climate change.

“In particular, the emerging evidence does not support increases in incineration in London, but rather a need for the government and investors to pause and reflect and not to allow excess capacity to drive the burning of recyclable waste.”

He added: “In the aftermath of a disappointing Cop26, it is important to promote the improvement of air quality as a central strategy to combat climate change and to improve human health. This means that we should apply the precautionary principle to waste incineration and that government and local authorities must take time to think again, in particular when considering the health risks of putting plants in urban locations with dense populations.”

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