The report, Waste Incineration and Particulate Pollution: A failure of Governance launched on Tuesday (17 July) in the House of Lords, with cross party support from MPs; John Grogan (Labour), Philip Davies (Conservative) and Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Tyler.
The report looks at the levels of emissions of what it calls “harmful particulate matter” (PM) and Nitrous Oxide (NO) from incinerators across England.
UKWIN also claims the report shows that waste incinerators are regularly exceeding thresholds where they should be reporting emissions, but are failing to reveal their pollution level.
Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network – “For decades incinerators in England have been emitting significant quantities of pollution and greenhouse gasses. There is a substantial cost to society associated with these harmful emissions.”
The smallest particles, PM2.5 and smaller, are invisible and especially dangerous to health, the group claim, saying PM and NO can aggravate breathing problems, heart and lung disease. PM and NOx are emitted by diesel cars, which the government is now working to phase out.
UKWIN says the report shows that the PM released by incinerators in England in 2017 is equivalent to the PM emissions from more than a quarter of a million 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles a year, and the NOx emissions released by incinerators in England in 2017 are equivalent to around 80,000 lorries travelling 75,000 miles a year, using comparison figures from the Road Haulage Association and Transport for London,
Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network, said: “For decades incinerators in England have been emitting significant quantities of pollution and greenhouse gasses. There is a substantial cost to society associated with these harmful emissions.
“This cost should be met by incinerator operators in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Operators should also be required to be more transparent about their emissions and to do more to monitor and control the pollution they cause”.
Philip Davies MP said: “Incinerators are being foisted on local communities right across the country and yet the damage that they cause to the local environment is not fully known. There really needs to be a suspension on new incinerators until there is better information available”
The report calls for:
- The development and implementation of accurate systems to measure the particulate matter that incinerators release, accompanied by proper enforcement
- Stricter control of PM1 emissions
- Incinerators to be taxed on their emissions
- Moratorium on new incineration capacity in recognition of the issues identified in the report
Copies of the full report can be read here
“Essential & Cost-Effective”
Libby Forrest, ESA Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Officer, who looks after energy from waste (EfW) for Environmental Services Association (ESA), commented on the report, saying energy from waste (EfW) provides an essential and cost effective service to local authorities and businesses across the UK, diverting 10m tonnes of non-recyclable waste from landfill, generating over 5TWh of low-carbon energy each year, and working effectively alongside recycling services.
“EfW is one of the most tightly regulated combustion processes,” she said. “Its emissions limit for particulate matter is amongst the lowest applied to any industry. EfW plants continuously monitor particulate matter, which captures PM10 and PM2.5, which is reported to and independently verified by the Environment Agency. Results show that the average EfW operates well below the emissions limit.
Libby Forrest, ESA – “To put it in context, domestic wood burning stoves emit over 700 times more PM10 than UK EfWs.”
“There are no separate emissions limits for PM10 and PM2.5 because levels are below what modern continuous monitoring equipment can accurately categorise. Plants do however test for PM10 and PM2.5 levels which will produce more accurate data based on individual plant measurements rather than the emissions factor cited in the report, and these figures may well be below the reporting threshold for the Environment Agency pollution inventory.
“Public Heath England has looked carefully at EfW plants and concluded that modern, well-managed EfWs make only a ‘small contribution’ to local air pollution, and any health impacts ‘if they exist, are likely to be very small and not detectable.’
“A study funded by Public Health England and led by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College concluded last year that, ‘Overall […] PM10 exposures related to [EfW] emissions in Great Britain are extremely low […] especially when compared to annual mean background concentrations.’
“To put it in context, domestic wood burning stoves emit over 700 times more PM10 than UK EfWs.”
A spokesperson for Viridor, which has one of the UK’s largest networks of 300+ advanced recycling, energy recovery and landfill diversion facilities, reiterated the ESA’s comments.
“As the Environmental Services Association (ESA) notes, the emissions limits for particulate matter (and other potential pollutants) applied to energy from waste are amongst the strictest applied to any industry.
“Viridor plants continuously monitor emissions including particulate matter, which captures PM10 and PM2.5. This information is reported to and independently verified by the Environment Agency. Results show that our ERFs operate well below the emissions limit.”