Share this article share on facebook icon share on twitter icon click here to go to print-friendly version of article

The NLWA board ignored the views of people shown here arguing against the new incinerator as well as the eloquent deputations presented at its meetings

To nobody's great surprise, but to many people's great disappointment, at their meeting on 16th December the North London Waste Authority gave the go-ahead for the award of a contract to build a new and larger incinerator at the Edmonton "Eco-Park". True to form, the eloquent and well argued calls for a "pause and review" of the project were brushed aside or simply ignored and north London's very poor recycling figures were blamed on its residents rather than on the failures of the waste authority and the seven borough councils.

The decision to push ahead with increasing incinerator capacity will have multiple negative consequences, including:

  • the need to "feed the beast" will create a perverse incentive to not try hard to persuade people to separate out recyclable items;
  • the burning of large quantities of plastic, creating local toxic nano-particle emissions and wasting a precious fossil fuel-derived resource that could be reused to manufacture new plastic items;
  • the risk of the incinerator becoming a "stranded resource": if a future government sees sense and bans incineration, we will be left with an expensively procured white elephant, when we for the same money we could have built a state of the art facility which could efficiently sort black bag waste into multiple recycling streams, leaving only a small residue to be buried;
  • above all, the emission for up to 50 years of an unforgiveably large quantity of greenhouse gases - another nail in humanity's coffin.

See the deputations to the meeting

Olivia Eken addresses the NLWA

"As young people, we have the hard task of watching our future crumble before our eyes" - Olivia Eken addressing the NLWA on behalf of EnCAF Youth

The proceedings of the meeting are summarised in a report on the Enfield Dispatch website and it is also possible to watch the official recording of the meeting.

The nine deputations to the meeting criticised the incinerator project from a variety of technical, public health, economic and societal viewpoints. Each presentation was five minutes long - the first, by Olivia Eken of Encaf Youth, begins 25 minutes into the recording.

I strongly recommend watching all the deputations and noting the failure of the authority members to engage properly with the points raised. The letters sent to the waste authority by deputations are available on the NLWA website and some of them include the text of the presentation.

The alternative that the NLWA ignored - a mixed waste recovery facility

I would like in particular to draw attention to the presentation by Dr Rembrandt Koppelaar, which focusses on the wasted opportunity to build a modern mixed waste recovery facility (MWRF), using a variety of techniques to separate out many different types of recyclable and reusable materials from "black bag" waste. In particular, such facilities are able to separate out plastics which would otherwise be incinerated, emitting toxic dioxins into the air while wasting their potential for reuse to manufacture new plastic items.

Dr Koppelaar's written presentation is available in full but is rather technical - so to illustrate what he has in mind, I've included a diagram showing the elements of a typical MWRF and a video of a real facility in operation in Poland. If the NLWA had abandoned outdated and climate-threatening incineration and instead opted for the most modern MWRF technology, they would have done something they could be rightly proud of.

mixed waste recovery facility exampleThe elements of a mixed waste recovery facility (MWRF)

A Southgate councillor's message to the North London Waste Authority

Cllr Charith Gunawardena, one of three councillors in Southgate ward, has provided the full text of his presentation to the NLWA meeting.

Cllr Charith Gunawardena addresses the NLWACllr Charith Gunawardena addresses the NLWA

Thank you,Chair, for the opportunity to make this deputation today. I am a councillor at the London Borough of Enfield and a member of the Green Party.

What I would like to initially address is the fact that your individual boroughs are unlikely to have carried out adequate risk analysis and mitigation for you to safely make a decision today.

This project would commit each individual borough to nearly £200 million of capital and interest payments for decades to come.

As a member of Enfield Council’s Regeneration scrutiny panel and also its Environment scrutiny panel, I certainly know the required due diligence has not been carried out. And this situation can harm the NLWA.

To award the contract today, you would have needed access to high levels of independent expertise to balance the interests of not just the NLWA but also the residents who have elected you.

Has the NLWA supported and encouraged your local councils to carryout a comprehensive independent risk assessment of the Incinerator’s impact on your individual boroughs?

As far as Enfield Council is concerned, I know it has not been carried out, so you need to pause and review this project.

There are substantial risks posed by this project both to NLWA and to individual boroughs. Let me give just one specific example.

Enfield Council has already invested well over £60 million in its own energy company, called Energetik.

Energetik has recently signed a long-term agreement with the NLWA.

The agreement is that the energy and heat created by the burning of waste at the Incinerator will be used by Energetik to supply heat to tens of thousands of homes via its Community Heat Network.

Energetik’s business model is therefore dependent on the continued burning of waste at the Edmonton Incinerator.

So what happens if the amount of waste is successfully reduced and recycling targets are met?

Where will the heat needed for Energetik’s heat network come from, if the council’s stop creating enough waste to burn?

It seems to me that Energetik’s business model is flawed because it is dependent on the continued burning of waste at the Incinerator, which in turn relies on either

  • the council’s failing to meet waste and recycling targets, or
  • waste that could be recycled being burnt, or
  • waste being brought in from other council’s, with all the problems that brings in terms of transportation

The issue here is that these competing risks have not been properly or independently scrutinised and understood by Enfield Council and this work needs to be undertaken before any further decisions are made.

The other problem is that Energetik’s business model is also dependent on long term exclusivity deals with huge new housing developments, such as Meridian Water.

What this means in practice is that the households at Meridian Water will have to continue using the Energetik heat network – and therefore the heat created by the burning of waste - even where there are more environmentally friendly and potentially cheaper solutions available.

In other words, the business model of Energetik specifically restricts the adoption of alternative and more environmentally friendly energy solutions.

Again, the issue here is that these risks have not been properly or independently scrutinised by Enfield Council.

I know that the Council is under huge and mounting pressure to press ahead with the Incinerator because of the very large investment it has made in Energetik, but this pressure needs to be set aside for the time being.

A proper independent analysis of all the risks can then be undertaken by each individual council. And that is in the best interest of the NLWA.

Under these circumstances you cannot award the contract today and need to immediately pause and review this project.

Thank you.

Log in to comment