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Don’t rubbish our waste alternatives; By Glosvain campaigner Sue Oppenheimer ; THE BIG ISSUE

The Citizen
June 6, 2012

WE all agree we can’t keep on landfilling our waste.

Apart from being very expensive (because of landfill tax), it’s smelly, unsightly, releases harmful methane into the atmosphere and wastes useful resources.

So what should we do instead? Gloucestershire County Council thinks we should burn it and produce some electricity.

It plans to contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) to build a large waste incinerator at Javelin Park in Haresfield, on the outskirts of Gloucester. Each year it would burn 190,000 tonnes of waste left after recycling.

At a cost of half a billion, the council estimates it would save £150million on landfill charges over 25 years. This all sounds very plausible until you start to dig down and realise that the project does not stack up.

GCC has assumed household waste will increase year-on-year, but in reality it has been falling for the past six years. It predicted that waste would be 25 per cent higher in 2011/12 than it actually was. It over estimated by at least 70,000 tonnes – a large margin of error over a four-year period. Despite this, it still predicts waste will continue to rise, and uses this to justify its project. A report published last month by leading waste analysts, Eunomia, asserts waste will flat-line until at least 2020. Waste nationally has de-coupled from economic growth, so will not necessarily rise even if the economy picks up. Last week, the European Union, which states at least 80 per cent of our waste is recyclable or compostable, agreed a motion to ban this waste from incinerators by 2020.

Gloucestershire has a target to recycle and compost only 60 per cent of household waste by 2020. That means over half of our black bag waste will still be recyclable or compostable, and we won’t be able to burn it after 2020 – so there will be even less waste for the giant incinerator. The Eunomia report predicts that, by 2015, there will be between 1.2 and 4.6 million tonnes of surplus residual waste capacity in the UK, so why are we building more? They point to Germany, Denmark and Holland where overcapacity has led to incinerators being closed and waste being imported to keep the burners going.

We already know UBB will supplement household waste with commercial and industrial waste. The incinerator has to operate 24/7, and if household waste reduces, more and more commercial waste will be brought in, probably from far beyond Gloucestershire.

GCC made the business case for the project by comparing the costs of incineration against landfill costs, using their over-inflated prediction figures. With waste falling, landfill costs will be much less, and we estimate the incinerator will no longer save any money – indeed it may even cost more.

We can’t be sure because GCC won’t release the figures due to ‘commercial confidentiality’ so there can be no public scrutiny of their decision.

However, even the council’s waste champion, Councillor Stan Waddington, has admitted the business case may need reviewing. What are the alternatives? Other proven technologies exist that are cheaper and more flexible. Bristol uses mechanical biological treatment, which provides second-chance recycling of black bag waste.

It also separates out organic waste for composting in an anaerobic digester to produce syngas for the gas network. The truly residual waste can be processed in a modern, efficient and less harmful gasification/plasma arc plant, creating electricity.

None of us has a crystal ball to predict waste levels in the future, and this solution would provide the necessary flexibility.

Rather than Javelin Park hosting a huge inflexible power station that would be a blot on the landscape, it could become a state-of-the-art resource recovery park: modestly sized, economically sustainable and something to be proud of.

Tackling our rubbish ¦ 2006: Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) begins looking for a solution for dealing with residual waste ¦ 2008: GCC produces an outline business case using Javelin Park and incineration as model ¦ 2009: GCC purchases Javelin Park site for £7.3m ¦ 2010: The Government withdraws the £93m Private Finance Initiative funding from Gloucestershire because the project “will no longer be needed” ¦ March 2011: After a review, GCC decides to go ahead with the project ¦ December 2011: GCC chose Urbaser Balfour Beatty as its ‘preferred bidder’ ¦ March 2012: UBB submits its planning application ¦ May 2012: The EU passes motion to ban recyclable and compostable waste from incineration by 2020 ¦ Autumn 2012: The planning application will be considered by GCC ¦ 2013/14: If permission is granted, construction starts ¦ 2015: The incinerator becomes operational

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The Citizen

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