Audit Commission encourage the urgent building of incinerators

Filed in Blog by on September 25, 2008 11 Comments
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Well disposed by the Audit Commission - promoting incinerationFurther to my ‘how do we change people’s behaviour?’ question this morning about food waste, a ground breaking story hit the headlines today about incineration.

Councils in England have once again been warned that they face huge fines if they miss EU targets for reducing the waste they send to landfill.

The Audit Commission believe the we need to build incinerators to deal with the problem.

So once again we are solution engineering rather than PREVENTING the problem.

The commission say investment in waste disposal technologies that converted waste into energy or fuel would have the most significant impact on landfill reduction. The Commission warns that delays in building incinerators and other forms of disposal “pose the greatest threat” to meeting the targets.

Aaaaaaaaargh! Why not encourage people to reduce and recycle more rather than encourage us to continue with our wasteful lifestyles and just burn the evidence? (with possible devastating consequences to our health and the environment).

The Audit commission has also ‘advised’ that sending our landfill abroad is cheaper and ‘better for the environment’ than dealing with it here…………..

What I’m hearing from this report is that councils are being encouraged to act now to bring in incinerators to stop massive fines.

Why not spend the next couple of years educating householders on how to make good consumer choices? Why not spend time targeting manufacturers to use less or recyclable packaging?
Or invest the money in businesses in THIS COUNTRY that can recycle our waste and turn it into a resources? In addition we need to encourage businesses to be less wasteful.
In research for recent posts I have discovered that the construction industry wastes 20% of its materials. Likewise the fashion industry wastes 15% of its material. Let’s change this and PREVENT THE PROBLEMS in the first place.

We need to start viewing our rubbish as a resource and change our habits instead of throwing things ‘away’. Repeat after me “There is no such place as away”. Bring back the return on glass bottles and ban the carrier bag – these two small changes could have a massive impact. Let’s make reducing and recycling trendy and sexy. And let’s make it a way to save money. This would be a winning formula!

I’m seeing people who won’t stand up and make a difference. In our local Co-Op for instance, they have been told to ‘hide’ the plastic carrier bags and get people to ask for them. Do they? No they don’t because they are in the habit of giving them away.

I see customer after customer taking a carrier bag for one item (often an item with a handle, such as a pint of milk). So instead of getting heavy handed with fines for contamination of rubbish, perhaps it is time to get tough from the onset and get rid of the plastic bag altogether.

Today in a shop I saw sellotape, rubbers (erasers), dusters, post it notes, notebooks and pencil sharpeners in individual plastic wrapping. These were alongside once-use disposable aprons, gloves, cleaning wipes for leather, floors, toilets and worksurfaces……….

On this site we have shared how recycling can be easy, frugal and MORE convenient than the idea of just throwing things away. We end up with free compost, cheaper and more nutritious home made food, we end up supporting local businesses with is good for our immediate community. Yes, we’ve slipped up along the way, but we have never gone without anything; we have focused on what we CAN do, rather than what we CAN’T.

We have to step out of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality and start to take responsibility for our choices. Each and every one of us has a duty of care. We have a social responsibility to recycle as much as possible. That includes householders, manufacturers, shops and the council and Government. All of us need to work together instead of looking at symptoms and money.

Commission chairman Michael O’Higgins said: “We must keep up the pressure to reduce, reuse and recycle but if we are to avoid being heavily fined for failing to meet the 2013 target then we must also push ahead with the treatment plants that are in the pipeline.”

I agree, we need to divert waste away from the landfill, but not by burning it. Burning the rubbish will contribute to climate change, surely?

Our throw away culture is not sustainable, but neither is incineration. We need to seriously change our ways folks. Or the next thing you will be doing is petitioning against an incinerator in your back garden.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (11)

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  1. Hi Mrs Green,

    I totally agree with your assessment. The Audit Commission should not be pushing incineration as if it were a cure-all. That is absolute nonsense. Instead, they should be supporting Zero Waste concepts which will transform the situation.

    The Council/Zero Waste enthusiast alliance can play an important part in this transformation. In the upcoming Gloucestershire Council Zero Waste Week, we have the chance to strike a blow for change, against all doubting objections, in every council area.

  2. Mr Green says:

    This is another sad and crazy knee-jerk reaction to a problem. We are so busy trying to reach targets and official requiremnts and crashing headlong from one panic solution to another without seeing the true consequences.

    Incineration of waste is a critical mistake if we are to achieve enviromental balance. Incinerators need to be fed vast amounts of waste to justify their existence and destroy the effort to recycle and reuse materials.

    As I put in my article Against Incineration

    Waste incineration is like controlling the population through euthanasia before birth control. It’s wrong because it’s trying to control the problem, before preventing the cause.

    Incineration is solution engineering and addresses the problem. What we need in prevention engineering that addresses the cause.

    Manufacturers and industry are too profit orientated and short sighted to see that the greedy mistakes of today will become the problems of tomorrow. Maybe they just don’t care and are happy to enjoy the prosperity party while it lasts.

    Councils are too weak to take the tough decissions of correct waste management, in case it loses them votes and popularity.

    Consumers are too isolated from the reality of the waste and environmental issues to stop wringing their hands at the media stories and actually start doing something procative to reduce waste and reuse resources.

    Together, we are in a true british mess that only gets worse with talks, committees and think tanks that conveniently delay walking the walk, instead of talking the talk.

    Think of it this way: if everyone started today to recycle all they can and took some personal responsibility for their own waste instead of expecting others to clear up after them, we would make a vast step forward overnight!

    But will we? will you take back responsibility to be part of the answer and not part of the problem? It’s a simple as throwing your can into the green recycle bin and not the black bin bag. Every great change starts somewhere small, with tiny steps that no-one sees. Yet together we can make a greater positive impact on this problem than all the government policies and scientific solutions put together.

  3. Hi Mr Green,

    The disconnect you so clearly describe is symptomatic of present conditions. To overcome this we need an alliance of different agencies to form a spearhead for change.

    I have spoken repeatedly (ad nauseam maybe) about the New Year Zero Waste Week, but I feel it has potential. What is your view, can it have a bigger impact than the blog’s ZWW?

  4. Mr Green says:

    The UK currently sends one of the highest proportion in Europe of its waste to landfill.

    Responding to the report, a spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment said: “The Audit Commission is absolutely right that we need to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

    “Maximising the renewable energy that can be recovered from unavoidable waste, through incineration and other means such as anaerobic digestion, is both sensible and vital to cut landfill and build a low carbon Britain.”

    This comment is laughable! Incineration is the worst possible option to build a low carbon Britain. Output from incinerators is especially high in CO2 amongst other toxic gasses. Nearly all of the carbon content in the waste is emitted as CO2 to the atmosphere See Wikipedia on incineration

  5. Hi again Mr Green,

    Thanks for the links to US Zero Waste attitudes. I have already seen these excellent articles and would recommend the same for others to read.

    I agree that the Audit Commission have lost the plot with this issue, possibly out of panic at the huge charges due if we fail to improve our recycling effort nationwide. They speak for a lot of interested parties who would rather remain anonymous. It is a “dirty” business and we should find out about all the questionable attitudes that prevail.

  6. Mr Green says:

    Hi John, the little red arrow links is an experimental system we’re developing here to provide focussed information on selected keywords. Once the database is populated you should see these links popup on many important keywords, showing an overlay page that you can explore. I’m releasing an article on and more information on this later.

  7. Hi Mr Green,

    That is a great idea. I know about US Zero Waste attitudes and think others should read these articles because they show a typical US business approach, while we tend to have the individual approach. Both have merit and hopefully UK businesses will take a lead from their American colleagues.

    It will help inform readers without them having to google every new phrase they come across. This will encourage better debate.

  8. esther says:

    I went to the orthodontis the other day with my oldest..I’ve been watching, in one hours time, 6 children go to brush their teeth in the corner, with the disposable!!! toothbrush, the dentist leaves there, in case of forgetting! not one child brought it’s own (mine did, though)The toothbrushes, are wrapped in cellophane and even if disposable, they could at least take it home and re-use…

    But who are those parents to bring up their kids this way? (and who is he dentist that gives them throw-away toothbrushes?!)

  9. Hi Esther,

    Waste in the Dental & Medical and related areas is a big problem. I use a wooden toothbrush which does the job though careful drying is a good idea.

    Toothpaste is a difficult area too, with alternatives poor choices. We need some movement there.

    The Throwaway society creates this wasteful attitude and waste plastic is at its heart.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Esther, your story is astonishing. As you say, at least let them take them toothbrush home afterwards. Better still charge them for it which will no doubt make them remember next time.

    Medical waste is a problem, but no worries; they are planning on building incinerators next to the hospitals to burn energy to run the place. Ho hum………..

  11. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    I agree that incinerator isn’t the answer.

    I agree reduce, reuse, recycling should be nationally be pushed from 30% now, through the legal 50% to 70-75%. 50% in the EU WFD is very unambitous.

    I agree food waste needs to be collected separately and composted by organised local IVC or CHP via Anerobic Digestion technology, back to farmland.

    I disagree that a non technology solution is realistic for the last 25-30% of mixed or difficult waste. AMBT and resource recovery is the friendiest solution.(FoE,Greenpeace) Small scale local Gasplasma is the best technology for hospital waste, composite products, historic latent materials, difficult residual, but we are talking about the last 10-15% of material for hydrogen syngas conversion/CHP 2xRoCs, where plasma technology has very good emissions, CO2 footprint (Eunomia), 65% net energy efficiency, safe plasmarok,1% of input to landfill. This should we a goalkeeper solution not a striker or front 10 solution as Defra/AC are pushing incineration guised as EfW/CHP.

    Redesign of products is a long term transitional project in cconjection with producters and resource handlers.

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