by Sarah Read, Coordinator of the Billericay, Basildon, and Wickford Green Party,
and James Vessey-Miller, Coordinator of the South East Essex Green Party.
Plans have recently been revealed that a local company wishes to build a £50M waste incinerator and Waste-to-Energy plant in Basildon.
Clearaway Recycling Ltd has submitted plans for a new two-furnace Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plant capable of burning 150,000 tonnes of refuse-derived materials each year. The skip company, which already has a waste processing facility on the Burnt Mills Industrial Estate in Basildon, currently handles a quarter of a million tonnes of waste annually.
Named the Archers Fields Energy Recovery Facility (ERF), this new plant would require up to three 25-tonne HGV deliveries of waste every hour, 24/7 to feed the furnaces, and the company hopes that the facility will generate electricity for 20,000 homes.
This news comes less than a year after Essex County Council dramatically took Urbaser Balfour Beatty, (the owners of the nearby Tovi Eco Park Waste-to-Energy facility) to court over “obfuscation and half-truths” regarding a fatal design flaw in the plant’s treatment process, which meant that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste were still being sent to landfill.
Glossy promotional materials boasting the eco-credentials of the proposed Archers Fields site have since been sent to 4000 neighbouring homes and businesses.
Waste-to-Energy Facilities are not ‘clean energy’.
Incineration has had somewhat of a PR makeover over the last few years.
Proposals for these kinds of WTE schemes have been cropping up all over the country in the last few years with bold claims that it will jointly reduce waste being sent to landfill whilst generating ‘clean energy’ for neighbouring homes and businesses.
The truth is that whilst schemes like this claim to be environmentally-conscious, in operation they almost never are.
We’ve known since the 80’s that hormone-altering and cancer-causing Dioxins (chlorinated organic molecules) are generated from the burning of waste in these processes, specifically forming when flue gases from this kind of refuse incineration cool down. These chemicals are part of the “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants which can cause serious harm to humans and the environment.
Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are all extremely harmful to health, and long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system, and reproductive functions. All of these chemicals can be generated as a result of burning waste.
As a result waste incinerator operators have had to retrofit their plants with systems intended at limiting the number of these dioxins that escape via the flue gases. In recent years, some schemes have gone as far as to suggest that their exhaust cleaning systems are perfectly clean, and their incinerators are of no immediate threat to the health of neighbouring towns.
But recent research has proven that systems installed to clean the dangerous flue gas, can actually inadvertently create the ideal conditions for these incredibly dangerous molecules to form and escape into the air whilst also condensing into the fly ash. This means that despite the plant having preventative systems in place, some of the most dangerous airborne compounds will likely be created as a result of this plant’s operation.
Given that the plant is within short range of Whitmore Primary School, Frypa Hall School, Northlands Park Nursery, Felmore Primary School, Briscoe Primary School & Nursery, and Northlands Park, and the site is adjacent to the clean air zone identified by Essex County Council and Basildon Council; we’d suggest that perhaps greater scrutiny be given to the kinds of airborne pollutants this plant could be exposing our children to.
Additionally, whilst the promotional graphic illustrated by the company seems to infer that the plant will generate “no landfill” and “no export”, the high dioxin concentration fly ash generated from the plant is indeed waste; waste of the most dangerous kind. Waste that would likely go to a hazardous waste landfill.
The Climate Emergency & Air Pollution
Another stake through the heart of the false ‘Green Energy’ narrative of these schemes is the enormous amounts of CO2 emissions WTE plants generate in operation.
An average figure is something in the realm of 7-14 kg CO2 per tonne of waste, and if this plant plans to process 150,000 tonnes of waste each year, it has the potential to generate a staggering 2.1 Million kgs of emitted CO2 every year.
Not exactly green or clean and exactly the sorts of schemes we need to be stopping if we want to tackle the climate emergency.
Additionally, obtaining low emissions values for Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) requires the use of more electricity in the process, while attaining low emissions of Nitrous Oxides (NOx) usually requires an additional supply of gas. Electricity is not only generated but also consumed in the operation of a WTE plant, in a particular for cranes, fans and air pollution control. It may also be used for flue gas condensation.
This is also before we even start to calculate the carbon footprint and air pollution impact of the 72 HGV trips each day required to feed the site.
At this time of Climate Emergency, it has never been more important to forensically consider the CO2 Pollution and Air Quality impacts of schemes like this.
Peddling these schemes as ‘green’ and ‘clean’ is misleading, and dangerous.
A Green alternative to Incineration
Burning any waste should always be the last resort for any modern municipal waste systems.
The Green Party has long campaigned against the incineration of waste citing air pollution and carbon emissions concerns, and these WTE facilities are just dressed-up incinerators.
Green Party policy is staunchly against the incineration of waste
[Green Party Policy: NR416 (VIII)]
… and instead calls for a radical overhaul of the way we obtain and use materials and the way we deal with subsequent waste.
The Greens campaign to bring in A Waste Avoidance and Recycling Act, and the creation of A Standards Commission whose joint efforts will be to adopt circular economic principles, reshifting production from the exploitative linear economic model, to that of a new infinitely sustainable model.
If we are to tackle the linked crises of Climate Change and Air Pollution, we should be working against these kinds of polluting industries, and instead, supporting businesses to adopt more sustainable practices.
Sarah Read, your Green Party Candidate for Billericay East said;
“As a local resident, I am very concerned about the increase in air pollution and carbon emissions linked to this proposed WTE plant.
As a mother, I am also deeply worried about the health risks related to the release of carcinogenic dioxins into an area close to many local schools.
Long term exposure to these pollutants is linked to the impairment of the immune system, and as our community recovers from the COVID-19 virus I’m sure we all want to keep our immune systems as strong as possible.”– Sarah Read, Billericay Basildon & Wickford Green Party
Clearaway Ltd is looking to hear the views of residents, and an open consultation available on their website is open until June 12th 2020.
We strongly advise that residents investigate the huge environmental impact such a plant has, and to respond accordingly.
We encourage residents and Green Party members to participate in the company’s consultation.
Additionally, please consider signing up to the Green Party’s free mailing list, to be kept up to date with the latest news from your local branch.
Green Party Policy on Natural Resources: