The Environmental Services Association (ESA) says it is time to stop “demonising” energy from waste (EfW) after Greenpeace claimed plants are three times as likely to be situated in the most deprived areas of the UK.
An article published in The Guardian today (31 July) said data obtained by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace, found areas in the top 20% for deprivation host nearly one-third of EfW plants in the UK.
In a statement issued in response to the article the ESA said: “The thousands of people who work at energy from waste plants across the country are rightly proud of the role they play in protecting the environment and many are from the very communities served by these facilities.
“Our industry has been actively involved in the development of the new Resources and Waste Strategy for England, which will instigate the systemic change required across the whole economy to achieve higher recycling rates and greater resource efficiency, while limiting the non-recyclable waste sent for energy recovery.
“Demonising EfW in the meantime does nothing to move the country closer to achieving a more circular economy.”
For a variety of political and cultural reasons, UK EfW facilities have tended to be located outside of urban centres or alongside similar industrial use classes, where opportunities for viable residential heat networks are limited or non-existent, the ESA said.
“It is time to stop demonising EfW technology and to embrace energy recovery”
The planning process requires full and fair statutory consultation with a range of stakeholders and many operators engage in additional consultation with the local communities they intend to serve, the ESA added.
And, the trade association said that by repeatedly describing operators as “incinerator companies” Greenpeace had misrepresented the diversified nature of many of the businesses involved with EfW.
It added that EfW provides “reliable, decentralised, low-carbon electricity sufficient to power nearly two million UK homes”.
The ESA points to a report published this month by think-tank Policy Connect and supported by a cross-party group of parliamentarians which concluded that EfW was the “safest and cheapest” solution to the UK’s residual waste problem (see letsrecycle.com story).
The ESA’s statement reads: “The ESA and its members believe that it is time to stop demonising EfW technology and to embrace energy recovery alongside recycling, re-use and waste avoidance measures, in the way that our European neighbours have for decades.
“A new national policy focus centred around unlocking the benefits of EfW will help to make plants more efficient, by facilitating local heat-offtake, and will improve a planning process that is all-too-often needlessly confrontational and influenced by the ‘anti-incineration’ lobby – which steadfastly ignores the clear scientific consensus, including advice from Public Health England, and the Environment Agency, that these facilities are safe both for the environment and the public.
“There is a complete misapprehension that this lobbying will drive recycling and reduction of resource use, when it in fact only allows landfill to prevail.”
Greenpeace says it found that more than 40% of all existing incinerators are sited in areas more diverse than their local authority average.
More than two-thirds of proposed EfW plants in England are planned for the northern half of the country, Greenpeace says.
Neighbourhoods in the wealthiest 20% of areas host eight of the 90 current facilities, Greenpeace says.
Last month Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for communities and local government, upheld a decision to refuse permission for an EfW plant at Waterbeach, near Cambridge, partly because of the damage the proposed 80 metre stack could cause to views of the nearby Denny Abbey, a twelfth century Benedictine monastery (see letsrecycle.com story).
Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner Sam Chetan Welsh said: “This is yet another damning example of how people of colour and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues such as pollution, and are forced to bear the brunt of the social, health and economic impacts that these issues exacerbate.
“Incinerators are an unnecessary by-product of our addiction to single-use, throwaway items.”
“We have a planning process that is systemically racist and classist, and the government and local authorities need to take action to change that.”