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Welsh Committee warns against long-term incinerator contracts

The National Assembly for Wales Petitions Committee have produced a report entitled ‘The Incineration of Waste’, which includes the following recommendations to the Welsh Government:

Recommendation 1. The Committee recognises that market forces will dictate what waste technology is affordable to local authorities but recommends that the Welsh Government does its utmost to ensure that the 70% target is met by 2025. (Page 13)

Recommendation 2. The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government ensures that local authorities are not impeded by long term contracts in meeting the 70% target by 2025. (Page 13)

Recommendation 3. The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government seeks opportunities to support emerging waste treatment technologies that could, in time, offer a viable alternative to incineration. (Page 15)

Recommendation 4. The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government considers the feasibility of contributing to a comprehensive study, in association with appropriate stakeholders, to explore any potential health risks that could be associated with the release of very small particles from incinerators. (Page 21)

Paragraph 30 of the report states that: “The Committee shares the petitioners’ concerns that local authorities will be locked into long contracts that will demand a higher level of residual waste than is naturally produced as recycling rates continue to improve over time.”

The ways in which long-term incineration contracts can adversely impact upon waste reduction, re-use, recycling and composting has often been raised by UKWIN, and the dangers of locking oneself into a contract that then disincentivises the top tiers of the waste hierarchy has been raised by UKWIN and others. This includes UKWIN’s Submission to the PFI Reform Call for Evidence and the Audit Commission’s advice‘s advice that: “In procuring waste disposal infrastructure, [Waste Disposal Authorities] should avoid creating disincentives to pursuing waste minimisation and recycling initiatives”.

According to Paragraph 43 of the report, the Committee asked Professor Howard whether sufficient research was being done to determine a clear effect on health, and he answered: “We are dealing with mixtures from different sources, and we are dealing with diseases that are known to have many different factors that can influence their onset. I personally do not think that enough work has been done on the basic science. For example, on the particles coming from a municipal waste incinerator, from what we know about the different inputs going into the waste incinerator, as a toxicologist, I would predict that they would be more toxic than the particles coming out of a conventional power station, because there are heavy metals and synthetic plastics such as PVC, all of which will contribute. A study has never been done to compare the toxicology of the particles coming out of the municipal waste incinerator as opposed to a conventional power source. The technology to do that, namely the experimental paradigms to allow us to do that, is in place and has been for a decade or more, but a study has never been done, so there are a lot of missing data.”

Paragraphs 44 and 45 of the report go on to say: “The Professor suggested that the research should take no more than two or three years to carry out, but it would be expensive and would need the collaboration of a number of different agencies. Until such definitive research is carried out, the Committee feels that people will continue to speculate on what they feel to be the unproven risks to health. The result of such speculation can only be continued protest and resistance to every proposed incinerator”. At Paragraph 55 we read: “The costs of carrying out a study on the scale described by Professor Howard may be prohibitive to the Welsh Government at this time. However, the Committee feels that such a study could go a long way towards alleviating the fears of anti-incineration groups in Wales. For this reason, the Committee would encourage the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government, the EU and other stakeholders to consider the feasibility of carrying out a large-scale study”. These considerations gave rise to the fourth report recommendation.

Robert Hepworth, Chair of the Stop Newport & Monmouthshire Incinerator Campaign (SNIC) said, “The Committee has spoken for the people of Wales in questioning incineration on health and recycling grounds. We now call on the Welsh Government to level the playing field for grants so that local authorities can realistically consider alternatives to incineration. We encourage the 5 local authorities involved to insist on a full re-tender. This will save taxpayers wasting huge sums on redundant and unhealthy incineration plants which we could be stuck with for 30 years. The Report is perfectly timed as we see that Wales’ only existing waste incinerator at Crymlyn Burrows has again been closed down this week after breaching its emission limits – how many more reports and practical lessons are needed to make our Government see sense and ban more incineration?”

Leader of Wales Green Party, Pippa Bartolotti, added: “This is excellent news for our campaign. In the light of the consistent increase in householder recycling, the entire incineration project is looking very shaky indeed – indeed a sinking ship. The clear signal from the Petitions Committee is that incineration is not the way forward for Wales. Campaigners across Wales have always argued in favour of alternative technologies to incineration which are commercially available from UK-based manufacturers. Now is the time to investigate these alternatives and give the people of Wales a method of waste disposal which is less harmful to the environment, and properly in tune with a zero waste strategy. The incinerator ship is sinking.”

A Government response is expected in January 2013.

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