THE WISBECH INCINERATOR – Q & A
Why are we against the incinerator coming to Wisbech? Here are answers to commonly-asked questions, which we hope will clarify our position. There are questions about the proposed local incinerator and some facts about incineration in general.
Won’t it bring much-needed development to Wisbech?
Fenland definitely needs new investment in business, education, and housing. But this development will bring very little benefit to the community and might well be detrimental to the future of the town. Construction traffic will put a huge strain on local roads going round and through the town and increase air pollution from fumes and dust. Once operational. there will be further increases in traffic and air pollution, affecting our health, agricultural land, and the environment. Wisbech is attractive to house-buyers, but who will want to live in a place with this legacy?
Why turn away much-needed jobs?
Apart from the construction (undertaken by specialised contractors not necessarily from this area), once built, about 40 jobs would be available. There will be a few highly skilled management, technical and admin jobs for the running of the incinerator, and the majority will be fairly low paid shift work, such as forklift and crane drivers, working amongst and moving the mountains of rubbish. (Long-term lung disease among incinerator workers is common)
The waste has to go somewhere!
Yes, waste must be diverted from landfill, but at present 90% of recyclable material goes to landfill or incineration. With incineration there is less incentive to recycle, but policies and opinions on the climate crisis and environment are changing rapidly.
Under Boris Johnson’s 10 point green renewal plan to cut waste and to lower our carbon footprint, there will be many more recycling plants, composters and digesters for dealing with food waste, and facilities for sterilising and autoclaving materials which can be repurposed. Already there is plenty of green technology which creates cheap energy for the power grid. New technologies will create plastics which can be recycled, not disposed of after one use.
There will be much less need for huge incinerators, with their toxic emissions and release of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They will become more expensive to run and potentially more toxic as they are designed to run most efficiently on high rates of waste being burned. So they will need constant new markets for waste, potentially importing waste from other countries.
What kind of waste would be burned?
The ‘fuel’ will be a mixture of household non-recyclable plastics, recyclable waste, food waste, hazardous waste (subject to licence) from hospitals, labs and pharmaceuticals, paints, batteries, CFCs (from fridges) PCBs (chemicals toxic to life) and cyanide-based chemicals. All these must be burned in high temperature incinerators (typically waste-to-energy (W2E) incinerators like the one proposed for Wisbech). It may be baled or loose. The toxic chemicals such as dioxins, furans, etc. should be captured within the incinerator chimney, resulting in toxic fly- or flue-ash, and bottom-ash. Metals are magnetized out before the toxic residue is buried in special landfill sites although potentially may leach into the environment and groundwater. A small amount of is added to the substrates for roads, replacing sand/gravel.
Aren’t incinerators much cleaner than they used to be?
Although incinerator operators would like you to think they are more advanced and cleaner nowadays, they still emit dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals, particularly during the start of the burn, and cooling down for maintenance or breakdowns. Before the furnace reaches its optimal burn temperature the waste will not burn efficiently, and therefore the mixtures of chemicals can be very toxic – as much as 40% of the annual allowed emission can be emitted in one start-up. So 3 start-ups can emit well over the annual allowance.
MVV’s sister plant in Devonport is constantly in their local news for foul-smelling odours affecting local people.
Wisbech has the highest rates of asthma and chronic obstructive and pulmonary disease (COPD), and the highest deaths from lung disease in Cambs, which itself has higher averages than the national level. These diseases are caused by our low-lying terrain, and high levels of air pollution. Air pollution is a mixture of particles and gases that have an adverse effect on health. It is the largest environmental risk to public health and causes lung cancer and respiratory disease. High air pollution rates are caused by traffic and other industrial processes, and high levels are related to areas of deprivation.
Wisbech is one of the most deprived* areas in the country and already suffers some of the highest levels of air pollution. The incinerator would bring more traffic and more particulate emissions to an already sickly community with ever growing hospital waiting lists.
* The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) combines information from seven domains to produce an overall relative measure of deprivation. The domains are: Income; Employment; Education; Skills and Training; Health and Disability; Crime; Barriers to Housing Services; Living Environment. Wisbech ranks very low on all these indicators.
Who tests the emissions?
The Environment Agency checks emissions on site twice a year, and companies make sure their incinerators are working at optimal levels at that time. The regulatory body relies on monthly reports issued by the operators, and some reports are allowable ‘estimates’ based on previous readings. This is unsatisfactory if you want to have accurate readings. Separate readings are required for each toxic material/gas emitted.
Will the power generated mean cheaper electricity for local citizens?
Not for Wisbech. This operator will not be providing any cheap energy to local housing. It has contacted 4 local companies to provide some of their heat and electricity. Any excess will be diverted into the National Grid. Extra pylons would have to be erected and potentially compulsory purchase of privately owned land.
How will the waste arrive in Wisbech?
The waste will be brought in by 150 HGVs per day, from a radius of about 2-3 hours drive, using the A47, A1101 and other local roads, so potentially from more than 100 miles away. So 300 extra lorry movements per day on our overcrowded and poorly-maintained roads. This will increase air pollution levels.
In the future if the incinerator takes in foreign waste, it could come in via Wisbech port.
Have our local Councils made attempts to stop it?
Yes. Wisbech Town, Fenland District and Cambridgeshire Country Councils all objected to the plan when it went before the Planning Inspectorate as an initial scoping report. Our local MP and the newly-elected Combined Authority Mayor for the area are also campaigning to stop it.
Who makes the final decision?
The Planning Inspectorate will make its decision known to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in autumn 2021. The Secretary of State will make the final decision.
What can I do to help stop this Incinerator?
- Join our Wiswin (Wisbech Without Incineration) campaign on Facebook, look out for events and come and support us.
- Have a look at our website https://www.wiswin.org.uk – there are suggestions there on how to help.
- Sign our petition on our Facebook page to tax incineration like landfill https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-tax-incineration-like-landfill?fbclid=IwAR0Zu8IxDPKWvbbmde-RBvte6dOAleX3K95OB_KVRhIjYiNgqvQOC4sdd6M
- Write to our MP (Rt Hon. Steve Barclay)
General Questions & Answers About Incineration*
Isn’t incineration the solution to the solid waste crisis?
No. Incineration is not the long-term solution to the solid waste crisis, because it wastes (not recovers) resources. Simply removing and recycling the glass (not to mention the aluminium, office paper, cardboard etc.) from one ton of rubbish saves more energy than is recovered by the burning the rest of the ton.
Won’t incinerators remove the need for landfills?
No. After incineration, up to 40 percent of waste remains, which will require landfilling. Incineration actually perpetuates the use of landfills because of the large quantities of leftover ash produced by incinerators, which is disposed of in landfill. In addition, this ash is very toxic, containing concentrated amounts of heavy metals and dioxins, which when buried will eventually leach into the soil, thus polluting the groundwater.
If incineration will not replace landfills, won’t it stretch available landfill space by almost tenfold because it reduces waste volumes by 90%?
No. Often, decision-makers are misled by industry claims that there is a 90% volume reduction when rubbish is burned in an incinerator and conclude that their dwindling landfill space will stretch 10 times as far. This is not the case. The 90% figure refers to a comparison between the waste entering the incinerator and the ash leaving it. It does not include waste that cannot be burned (building debris, old refrigerators, etc.) or that is missed when the facility is closed for repairs and does not take account of compaction in the landfill. When such factors are taken into account, an incinerator saves somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent of the volume; the landfill space is only stretched 2.5 to three times, not the tenfold increase sometimes implied by promoters of incineration.
Isn‘t it reasonable to require that all hospital waste be incinerated to protect public health against infectious diseases?
No. Under normal circumstances only 10% or less of a typical hospital waste stream is infectious, and that can be sterilized with heat or microwaves. The remaining waste is not infectious. The paper, plastic, food waste and other hospital waste are similar to the same waste coming from hotels, offices or restaurants, since hospitals serve all of these functions.
There are strict guidelines for dealing with Covid-related and hazardous waste. The large volumes of Covid-related waste during pandemic waves probably means these are incinerated.
Doesn’t an investment in an incinerator plant pay off in terms of new jobs created in the community?
No. Very few jobs are created in return for this huge economic investment. Most of the jobs are temporary ones created during the building of the plant. A large incinerator may employ about 50 workers. On the other hand, if the community puts its efforts into source separation, reuse and repair, recycling and composting, many more jobs are created, both in the actual handling of the waste and in the secondary industries which utilize the recovered material. Also, most of the money invested in the incinerator leaves the community. The huge engineering firms that build incinerators are seldom located in the host community and thus most of the money invested leaves the community. On the other hand, money invested in the low-tech alternatives stays in the community creating local jobs and stimulates other forms of community development.
Can’t modern incinerators be used to generate enough electricity to sell which can offset its operating costs?
No. The claim that a modern rubbish incinerator is a waste-to-energy facility makes for good public relations, but the reality is that they produce very little energy. And energy production certainly does not justify the huge costs involved inbuilding them. All of Japan’s 193 waste-to-energy incinerators combined produce less energy than one nuclear power station.
What about the state-of-the-art incinerators with pollution control equipment? Won’t that eliminate pollution concerns?
Pollution control equipment can remove some, but not all, of the heavy metals from the stack gases. But the metals do not disappear; they are merely transferred from the air into the ash, which then has to be landfilled. So the cleaner the air emissions, the more toxic the ash. Also, pollution control technologies for different pollutants are often incompatible. Scrubbers designed to filter out particulates and heavy metals cool the exhaust gas to the ideal range for dioxin formation. So decreasing the emission of one pollutant increases the emissions of others. And no pollution control device can eliminate dioxin or heavy metal emissions completely. Also, pollution control equipment often does not perform as it should. It is very costly to maintain equipment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The U.S. EPA reported that a modern incinerator in Indianapolis, Indiana exceeded its permitted pollutant limits more than 6000 times in less than two years.
Doesn’t incineration concentrate the toxics into a dense powdery ash that is easy to dispose of?
The leftover ash can be extremely toxic, containing concentrated amounts of lead and cadmium, as well as dioxin and furans. Disposal of toxic ash in an environmentally sound manner is problematic and expensive. The average cost in the Midwest U.S. for disposing of a ton of hazardous waste is $210, compared to $23 for ordinary waste. Some experts recommend burying this ash in a landfill equipped with a plastic liner to prevent leaching into groundwater. But all landfill liners eventually leak. According to the U.S. EPA, liners may last 10 or 20 years, but not forever, so groundwater is threatened by toxic incinerator ash.