Recycling Centres not Incinerators

Incinerators are toxic, wasteful and cost three times more to deal with rubbish than the alternatives

Close Dovesdale Incinerator and build Anaeroboic Digestion and Material Recovery Facilities instead for electricity, fertiliser and cheap raw materials from rubbish


Despite 24,000 objections across South Lanarkshire (collected by volunteers for AGADI (the Action Group Against Dovesdale Incinerator), including me (though i was a volunteer, not an organiser)), the largest number of objections ever made to a planning application in the council area - all the Labour and Lib Dem and two of the four Conservative councillors on the council's planning committee voted to approve an incinerator burning both household and industrial waste at Dovesdale near Stonehouse, the toxic emissions from which can travel at least10 kilometres in any direction on the wind. All the SNP councillors including Councillor Ian Gray (now retiring as a councillor for this ward) listened to the wishes of the people who elected them and voted against.

One of the Conservatives who voted to approve the incinerator was Councillor Alex Allison, who is one of the four councillors for this ward and is standing for re-election.

There's no doubt that we need an alternative to landfill (just burying waste in rubbish dumps) as the possible sites are running out, it's wasteful and decomposing rubbish can give off high concentrations of methane gas which can be dangerous, along with the risk of contaminating groundwater with methane and chemicals from rubbish. However incinerators are not the best solution. They are three times more expensive per tonne of rubbish dealt with, more polluting, damage peoples' health more, waste more resources and provide far less benefit in recycled goods, fertiliser and electricity than the alternatives of recycling facilities for non-biological waste plus anaerobic digestion plants for biological waste.

Incinerators cost over 3 times as much per tonne of rubbish dealt with as recycling and anaerobic digestion

Incinerators are not even cheaper than recycling - they're three times more expensive per tonne of rubbish dealt with. The 2011 Gate Fees report of the Waste and Resource Action Programme has surveyed the cost per tonne of rubbish dealt with of different forms of waste management (dealing with rubbish). It found that incinerators have median 'gate fees' (paid by local government with taxpayers' money) of 73 per tonne of rubbish incinerated, compared to 4 per tonne for MRF ( meaning Materials Recovery Facility - a factory which separates sorts non-biological waste by type) or 43 per tonne for Anaerobic Digestion of biological waste (which also creates both electricity and fertiliser without the same range or levels of toxic emissions as incineration).

That means that an MRF plant and an AD plant together can process a tonne of biological waste and a tonne of non-biological rubbish for 47 - two tonnes of waste for 47 or 23.50 per tonne, versus the 73 per tonne for an incinerator. So incinerators costs to the taxpayer are over 3 times the amount per tonne of MRF and AD plants. This doesn't include the subsidy paid to incinerators as supposedly 'green energy' producers(which they are not) of around 60 per tonne.

If we're going to subsidise waste management lets make it waste management that's actually green, minimises the impact on peoples' health, doesn't waste valuable resources or energy and provides better value for money

Incinerators burn household and industrial waste releasing toxins which cause cancers and lung problems, especially in children

Incinerating plastics releases dioxins , heavy metals, acid gases and other toxins which are then carried on the wind long distances to be inhaled by people and animals and pollute farmland and water, causing cancers and breathing problems in the long term - and especially increasing the risks of cancers and birth defects in children. This is before you even get on to the industrial waste which Dovesdale and similar incinerators have also been given licences to incinerate ; or the fact that Scotgen, who run a similar incinerator in (see this blog post and this one and the scientific studies and reports listed and linked to in them). Office for National Statistics figures show that in one case in London a council ward downwind of an incinerator had infant mortality rates over 7 times higher than other wards and additionally that premature deaths (below the average life expectancy of 85 years old) were many times higher in wards affected by incinerator emmissions and this could not be explained away by them being deprived areas as one of the wards with the highest infant mortality rates is also the wealthiest.

Scotgen, the company who run the Dovesdale Incinerator have been running one in Dumfries which in the first 6 months of operation exceeded it's emissions limits 52 times without being closed down.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency also allows incinerator operators to carry out their own monitoring and reports of emissions rather than SEPA carrying them out - which leaves things open to operators not accurately reporting emissions as SEPA will not usually be checking them itself anyway.

Incinerators waste finite resources that are rapidly rising in price as China and India industrialise - and which will eventually run out altogether

Third, incinerators, while their operators claim to be 'recycling' by electricity generation to create "green energy" (are toxic emissions green?) in fact recycle nothing - they incinerate plastics and other waste which are going to be in increasingly short supply and more and more expensive in the decades to come. Plastics for instance are require petrochemicals (oil). As remaining oil reserves will be more costly to produce (as they are deep sea, Arctic, tar sands etc) than say Saudi or existing North Sea oil; and as demand for oil and other commodities rises with the rapid industrialisation of countries like Brazil, China and India, the price of oil and other raw materials will rise sharply. At that point having incinerated plastics and other resources we could recycle will not look so smart or so cheap - it will look like it was wasteful and short-sighted and will have cost us a fortune in lost resources in the long run.

Creating new plastics and other materials to replace those incinerated uses more energy than incinerating produces in electricity

When incinerators burn plastics and other materials which are going up in price rapidly and will eventually run out entirely (as they're oil based products) the amount of energy created as electricity is less than the amount of energy it will take to create new plastics. This is a massive net loss of energy in the long run, which we will come to regret in future decades if we continue doing it now. (see this FoE analysis and pages 6 to 7 of this one) report

Recycling of plastics, glass and paper and anaerobic digestion of food and biological waste can provide businesses with cheap materials, farmers with cheap fertiliser and everyone with cheaper electicity

Third other technologies already exist to create electricity for everyone plus fertiliser for farmers by sorting and recycling household and industrial waste and having anaerobic digestion systems which use the biological waste (food etc). That would provide electricity from the waste plus fertiliser for farming (a major part of much of South Lanarkshire's economy).

The recycled non-biological materials (glass, paper, plastic) etc could be given for free or at low prices to businesses in South Lanarkshire

This would cover some of the costs of recycling directly by sale and/or increase the profits or reduce the losses of farmers and businesses in the area. This would increase the amount of taxes they provided at a national and local level and the number of people they could employ, who would also pay tax. So a comprehensive recycling system would pay for itself indirectly in the long run.

The council itself could also benefit from cheap recycled paper from plants it owned or ran.

To go back to the main page click this link or click your browser's 'Back' button