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Anti-incineration groups criticise EIB’s support of Cardiff incinerator

Anti-incineration groups criticise EIB’s support of Cardiff incinerator
The European Investment Bank (EIB) has been criticised by anti-incineration groups for its financial support of a Viridor-owned incinerator in Cardiff.

The bank this month confirmed that it would be providing £110 million in funding to the company’s 30MW Cardiff Energy Recovery Facility, a decision that local group Cardiff Against the Incinerator (CATI) called a ‘disgrace’ and a sign of ‘pro-incineration corruption’.

According to Pennon Group, Viridor’s parent company, the incinerator, which has been operational since 2014, is the largest in Wales, and treats 350,000 tonnes of waste from local authorities and local businesses every year. The plant serves the five councils that make up Prosiect Gwyrdd (Project Green) – Cardiff, Newport, Monmouthshire, Vale of Glamorgan and Caerphilly. These authorities are said to be responsible for 40 per cent of the total municipal waste in Wales.

The EIB is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its member states. It makes long-term finance available for investments that contribute towards EU policy goals. Over the last five years the EIB says that it has provided nearly than €1.2 billion (£950 million) for investment to improve treatment and disposal of waste in 13 countries across Europe. Support for waste investment in the UK, including plants in North Yorkshire and Devon, has been more than any other country.

Plant does not support Welsh recycling goals

Local group CATI, as well as the UK Without Incineration network (UKWIN), has criticised the investment, suggesting that the incinerator does not meet the needs of the Welsh Government’s waste strategy or the European Commission’s circular economy plans.

A statement released by the group said: ‘Viridor’s incinerator is badly inefficient in energy terms, about 22 per cent, far from the 60 per cent of ‘high efficiency combined-heat-and-power’ plants that the Welsh Government decided should be the aim.

‘The Viridor contract with Cardiff and other local authorities is in fact set up to burn recyclable materials. 80-90 per cent of the municipal waste stream can be recycled, 70 per cent was set as the minimum [for 2024/25] in Welsh Government targets, but Viridor’s contract builds in a maximum of 65 per cent recyclables.’

‘The [incinerator’s] plume comes to ground, shown by a plasticky smell from potentially toxic compounds in homes as far as 2-3km away. Viridor failed to extract metals from the ash, and had to put in magnetic equipment under enforcement (by Natural Resource Wales in April 2015)… Since then, Viridor has been paid £60 000 per month to truck out the ash to England, contrary to the proximity principle of waste management policy.’

Shlomo Dowen, the National Coordinator of the UKWIN, has written to Jonathan Taylor, Vice President of the EIB, stating its opposition to the bank’s support of the project. He wrote: ‘The EIB should be supporting the circular economy and removing waste from the residual stream, not perpetuating outdated technologies that result in the lock-in of valuable resources into the bottom tiers of the waste hierarchy.

‘There are no guarantees that the feedstock would not be reduced, re-used and recycled given appropriate education, collection, sorting and treatment infrastructure. Furthermore, there is already more incineration capacity built and under construction in the UK than there is genuinely residual waste to burn.

‘The EIB should cease all unsustainable investments in harmful technologies, including incineration, and attempt to de-fund any incineration projects (including gasification and pyrolysis) already funded so as to allow for a rapid move towards a more circular economy and a recycling society.’

Dowen’s letter quoted William Neale, the former member of cabinet with responsibility for waste in the European Commission, as saying: “We have to have a circular economy concept, so it’s highly important that we’re pumping back materials into the economy rather than burning or burying them”.

Vital renewable energy for Wales

Commenting on the investment, Taylor said: “Significant investment in energy recovery technology allows energy to be recovered from waste that cannot be recycled or reused and would previously have been sent to landfill sites. The new Cardiff Energy Recovery Facility shows how waste is being transformed into vital renewable energy for Wales and reflects the strong environmental commitment of the Welsh Government and local authorities already working with the project.

The European Investment Bank recognises the strong track record of Viridor, owned by Pennon Group, successfully implementing cutting edge plants across the country and we expect to finalise technical details for a £110 million long-term EIB loan in the coming weeks. World class schemes such as the Cardiff Energy Recovery Facility will be highlighted at the International Green Growth Forum in Cardiff this week.”