York Residents Against Incineration

Case Studies

UK case studies of waste management

The good…  [Lancashire]
The bad… [Nottingham]   [Sheffield]   [Crymlyn Burrows]   [Newcastle]

And the ugly… before York and North Yorkshire Councils, blinded by the glare of huge amounts of PFI money, stumbled unthinkingly through the door marked “incinerator” there were plenty of disasterous stories of waste incineration schemes which have been inflicted on the public elsewhere in Britain.

Councillors in York and North Yorkshire will say, “it can’t happen here”, but what went so wrong in Nottingham, Sheffield and Crymlyn Burrows?

Lancashire – rejecting incineration

Lancashire County Council’s waste strategy of 2000 originally included Energy from Waste (EfW) as a way of dealing with residual waste. Since then the Council’s recycling performance has increased rapidly and consistently reaching a level of 30.9% recycling and composting in 2004/5.

The draft strategy had a 75% satisfaction rating, but many people wanted higher and earlier recycling targets or objected to the EfW incineration policy.

While the initial strategy retained EfW, Lancashire County Council explored every opportunity to avoid incineration. New technologies were examined and in 2003, the Cabinet and Partnership modified the strategy to replace the proposed EfW incineration with Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) of residual waste.

The preferred bidder for Lancashire is Global Renewables whose process treats residual household rubbish by separating the organic material and producing a combination of bio-gas and an organic growing medium (OGM). The organic waste is stabilised to levels that allow landfilling of residues in compliance with the Landfill Directive and the Waste Emissions Trading Act 2003. The process also involves intensive recovery of paper, plastic and metals for recycling.

Global Renewables’ process will save a minimum of 54% of residual rubbish from landfill and 82% of its biodegradable content (BMW). It is this biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) against which the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS) allowances is measured. Global Renewables’ proposal will also divert 95% of separately collected recyclate and 93% of separately collected kitchen and garden waste from landfill.

It’s not just Lancashire who came to the decision that incinerators are best avoided. Surrey went incineration free in December 2009, Shopshire ditched their incinerator plan, and Doncaster has a zero waste policy.

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Nottingham incinerator – licenced to pollute

Nottingham IncineratorNottingham already has two incinerators run by WRG – ‘open grate’ models built in 1972! Despite 31 pollution breaches in four years, WRG has never been prosecuted. Now the company has been given approval to build a third incinerator of the same old-fashioned, polluting model!

One can imagine the scene at the Environment Agency: “Can’t you build a more modern kind this time?” WRG: “No, then we’d have to retrain our staff.” Environment Agency: “Oh, alright then.”

The pollution monitoring regime is very weak: mostly self-monitoring with just annual Environment Agency checks. The incinerator costs Nottinghamshire council tax payers approximately £1m per year.

So is it a coincidence that Nottingham only recycles and composts 14% of its waste? NAIL campaigners say: “Incinerators do not destroy waste. Our rubbish still exists – we just see less of it. We end up inhaling and eating it instead.”

See www.nail.uk.net for more information.

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Sheffield – dumping dioxins on the poor

Sheffield's IncineratorSheffield incinerator is located in one of the most deprived areas of the city where the legal pollution limit was exceeded 156 times in two years.

High levels of dioxins found in bottom ash of Bernard Road incinerator – dioxins are linked to cancers, notably breast cancer.

A UK government report found that half of British babies and children are already taking in more dioxins than is safe.

Local resident Graham Wroe: “People that live near it worry about the emissions from the chimney. We suffer from traffic pollution and poor air quality and the incinerator adds to these problems. The city council should be looking at ways to reduce waste at source and increase recycling, instead of building a new incinerator which will pollute us for the next 30 years.”

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Crymlyn Burrows – fire and bankrupcy

Crymlyn Burrows's IncineratorThe company running the new giant incinerator and waste plant at Crymlyn Burrows on the Neath/Swansea border went bankrupt in 2005, owing 40 million pounds. The company, an arm of the Portuguese HLC, had only been operating the brand new incinerator complex as a PFI project with the Neath Port Talbot Council for a little over a year.

In the teeth of intense opposition, the incinerator was opened for trials in 2004, but shortly afterwards was destroyed by a fire which broke out in one of the filter sections. The fire contaminated local houses and the beach at the nearby Swansea Bay.

The plant was eventually rebuilt and reopened, but it was clearly a lame duck, despite the council promising a state of the art facility. It was no surprise when the operating company went bankrupt, owing £40 million mainly to the Royal Bank of Scotland. However, miraculously, the plant itself continues to operate, with another hastily revamped arm of HLC apparently in control. The betting among observers is that the new company will survive if it lands the contract to process the waste for the whole of Swansea.

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Newcastle – no incinerator ever again

Burning waste does not get rid of waste. It concentrates the dangerous toxins by altering them into ash and gases that still need to go somewhere – landfill and air fill. Yet industry tells us that strong regulations, stringent monitoring and improved filtration systems make the new technologies safe. But the more efficient the filter at the stack, the more toxic is the fly ash and the more ultra fine are the particulate emissions from the stack.

The reclamation/recycling site that mechanically processed, dried then made the waste into Refuse Derived Fuel as pellets was operated by Newcastle City Council then by SITA UK.

In 1980 it was found that burning RDF produced more ash than expected causing problems with the operation of the boilers.
By the end of 1998 RDF pellet making was abandoned as being too expensive and too difficult to comply with EU standards for pollution control. But plans were submitted to expand the incinerator and RDF process, enabling it to burn.

Grievances about the incinerator and the adjoining reclamation station where the waste was processed were long standing. Complaints of flies, rats, dust, noise and fires. The roof had blown off, and the main stack had caught fire. In 1996 two days of black snow was spewed from the RDF stack. There is a 20% long term sickness rate in the east end of Newcastle.

The workers in the RDF process frequently had skin rashes and stomach problems. They had to climb in to the machinery to free it as it was frequently jamming. On average there was one fire a week. Once a fire took hold in all the internal pipe work, which was very frightening and dangerous.

Experiments in burning different waste products were tried such as formica dust and chicken muck. The formica dust flared and workers were lucky not to be hurt.

SITA hired a firm to alter the RDF facility. There was an explosion with fire balls shooting out of the RDF stack. One witness said that she thought the whole place was going to explode. It was like a huge roman candle firework. A fire ball caused a fire close to the public road and footpath and only yards from people’s homes.

An allotment holder said gardeners told her that ash from the incinerator had been spread on allotment footpaths. Council Officers confirmed 2,000 tonnes had gone to allotments, parks, and riding schools. The Council had recorded it as recycling. In some cases it had been down for 7 years.

After taking advice from Communities Against Toxics the allotment holder approached the Environment Agency. The inspector was incredulous, saying SITA was a responsible firm that wouldn’t do such a thing. He had the nerve to ask for evidence.

Sampling by the University and the Health Authority showed results of massive contamination with dioxins/furans and a major contamination of copper, lead and zinc in the majority of samples. Cadmium contamination was considerable too. 5ng/kg of dioxins was the target level, which is considered background level. Between 11 and 4,224 ng/kg of dioxins were found. The industry has known since 1977 that fly ash contains dioxins/furans.

The Environment Agency licence says that, “Spent lime and ash from the bag filter will be put into a skip under permanent cover to prevent fugitive releases into the air, deposition directly onto land or leaching of metals. This will be transported to a local landfill.” It goes on to say, “The Company shall undertake appropriate measurement and analysis of all releases from the process which are designated for off site disposal to ensure that accurate information on the nature, quantity and type of waste may be given to those persons or companies disposing of the waste”. Neither of these instructions was followed.

The Director of Public Health made recommendations to wash and peel vegetables, not to eat eggs and poultry and not to allow children under two onto the allotments. When the Director of Health and the toxicologist organising the testing were offered some beautiful, freshly-washed allotment produce but at the time of the proposed expansion of the incinerator they had grown strawberries and both quickly declined.

More ash testing revealed one allotment with 9,500 ng/kg of dioxins which compares poorly with a target of 5ng/kg. The Environment Agency and Food Standards Agency took part in this 2nd report but did not include children under 10 in their calculations, effectively ignoring the potential problem for the most vulnerable.

The Council and the incinerator company eventually pleaded guilty in the Crown Court and were fined. It had cost the tax payer a fortune in fines, testing, clean-up and remediation costs. The incinerator is now closed and the Council says no more burning in Newcastle.

The Waste Industry claims that Newcastle’s incinerator was one of the older generation and that modern ones are different, been kept up to date so as to comply with regulations. Newcastle City Council had been led to believe it was the answer to their problem of compliance with recycling/recovery targets. They had completely disregarded doorstep collection of separated items for recycling. Newcastle figures for true recycling was 3% – one of the lowest in the country.

However – to their credit – Newcastle was able to turn around the situation increadibly effectively, once they had begun to listen to local activists and work toward a zero waste policy.

See www.banwaste.org.uk for more information.

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