The future Gloucester incinerator. Good news or very bad news?
This late-night angry rant (before I watch Liverpool getting spanked by Blackpool (!!) on MOTD2), was inspired by Baz Kirby’s Blog post about it. Thanks to him for getting me to re-look at this. It’s an important issue which needs more attention.
There is no definitive conclusion, given the different weights which each person will place on each aspect of the debate, but, sometimes you just have to jump off the fence and put your flag in the ground!
There are a number of positive aspects, otherwise it wouldn’t even be an issue. Just to get these out of the way first, there is a very short term cost saving, in that little or no waste will be dumped in land fill, therefore saving most, if not all, of the landfill taxes. The electricity produced by the system can also be used or sold to the grid.
Ok, that’s about it.
Here are the negatives:
More new material has to be manufactured to replace that being incinerated, whereas this material could be recycled, therefore massively reducing the energy and raw materials needed.
In terms of the waste hierarchy, there are a number of important steps before this stage which should be developed and put to use. These are prevention (not using the material in the first place), minimisation (using less of it), reuse (repair the thing or put it to a different use) and finally recycle (use the various elements which make up the product in other products).There are many different types of pollutants found in the waste ash + there is the waste emissions from the chimneys.
Fine dust particles and dioxins are a real medical issue. Fine particles are repeatedly correlated to infant mortality.
The very existence of a large incinerator encourages more waste production and less recycling, given that these large incinerators need to be fed rubbish constantly.
Waste materials from the incineration process will end up in landfill, which costs a lot of money, in terms of management, land take and taxes.
The waste fly Ash needs specialist toxic waste landfill disposal elsewhere, also leading to further transport miles.
Long contract periods needed in order to recover initial investment costs, causing a long-term lock-in (operational lifetime is roughly 20-30 years). Even if better and more sustainable alternatives are chosen in the short or medium term, the incinerator will remain operational.
There already are better alternatives and this issue will become more and more pronounced as time goes on, with better technologies being developed. One example is the MBT method – Mechanical Biological Treatment, which can produce a fuel source or recovery of individual components, such as plastic, glass and metals. The biological treatment part of this is currently in use via Gloucester’s brown bin collection system and gets sent to a farm which processes the food waste in huge anaerobic digestion containers. The product is fertiliser, used in farming.
Incinerators can produce electricity but there are many other cleaner ways to produce electricity that doesn’t involve incineration – tidal, hydro-electric, wave, solar, wind etc.
Visually undesirable, with prominent chimney stacks and associated industrial structures.