Resource Use

No more incinerators until proper emissions monitoring in place, says UKWIN

Harmful emissions from incinerators are going unreported and pose significant public health problems, according to new research from anti-incineration campaign group UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network).

UKWIN’s report, ‘Waste incineration and particulate pollution: A failure of governance’, was launched this morning in the House of Lords and has cross-party support from MPs John Grogan (Labour) and Philip Davies (Conservative), as well as Liberal Democrat life peer Lord Tyler. The report comes as part of UKWIN’s ‘Bin the Burners’ campaign, which seeks to secure a moratorium on the building of new incinerators in the UK.

The key claim in the report is that waste incinerators in England are not reporting emissions of harmful particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NO) and that the government has failed to adequately regulate them.

PM constitutes the tiny particles emitted through industrial processes and comes in various sizes. PM10 stands for all particles whose average diameter is less than 10 micrometres (1/1000 of a millimetre), PM2.5 is for particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter and PM0.1 is for particles up to one tenth of a micrometre. These particles, if inhaled, can aggravate breathing, lung and heart problems.No more incinerators until proper emissions monitoring in place, says UKWIN

In order to monitor levels of PM emissions, the Environment Agency (EA) says operators must report their emission levels of PM10 and PM2.5 if they exceed one tonne per year. However, Resources Minister Therese Coffey has said that ‘there is no commercially available’ equipment for the continuous monitoring of PM10 or PM2.5 emissions, meaning there is no separate data source for emissions recorded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) against which reported emissions levels can be compared.

The EA issues guidance for assessing levels of PM10 and PM2.5 using an emissions factor (EF) based on the quantity of waste burnt, which aims to give incinerator operators an indication of the amount of PM emitted. Very few incinerator operators have followed this, however, with only five reports of PM levels released in the last 19 years.

Using the EF, which states that every tonne of waste burnt will release 0.022 kilogrammes of PM10 and PM2.5, UKWIN has estimated the levels of PM emissions from 36 incinerators across England in 2017.

UKWIN’s report states that the 226.1 tonnes of PM10 and PM2.5 released by incinerators in England was equivalent to the PM emissions from more than 250,000 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles a year, while the 11,303.1 tonnes of NOx emissions released were equivalent to 80,000 lorries travelling 75,000 miles a year.

The top three most polluting incinerators in 2017, according to UKWIN, are:

  1. Viridor’s Runcorn energy-from-waste (EfW) plant in the Liverpool constituency of Halton, burning 890,932 tonnes of waste in 2017 and producing 19.6 tonnes of PM10 and PM2.5 and 980 tonnes of NOx;
  2. Cory Riverside Energy’s Belvedere incinerator in East London, which burnt 746,326 tonnes of waste, producing 16.4 tonnes of PM10 and PM2.5 and 821 tonnes of NOx; and
  3. Energy company SSE’s Ferrybridge incinerator near Knottingley, West Yorkshire, which burnt 631,515 tonnes of waste, producing 13.9 tonnes of PM10 and PM2.5 particles and 694.7 tonnes of NOx.

The report states that the pollution caused by these facilities represents a significant financial cost to society, as well as an environmental one, with the total cost to society in 2017 coming in at £107.93 million. Given this financial burden, UKWIN asserts that, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle included in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, ‘an incineration tax should be introduced to ensure polluters pay their fair share for the harmful emissions arising from waste incinerators’.

In order to mitigate against the public health risk posed by incineration emissions, the report calls for the following actions to be taken:

  • PM10 and PM2.5 monitoring should be made mandatory for incinerators, and EA guidelines should be strengthened and enforced;
  • Where PM emission factors are used they should not be reduced;
  • If possible, a limit value should be placed on PM1 emissions;
  • Incinerators should be taxed on their emissions; and
  • A moratorium on new incinerators should be implemented until the above policies are in place.

Commenting on the release of the report, Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of UKWIN, 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."

John Grogan MP commented: "The case for a tax on waste incineration to mirror the Landfill Tax and for a moratorium on new incinerators is now very strong."

Philip Davies MP added: "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."

Lord Tyler said: "Clean air is vital to health but the government seems unconcerned about adequately monitoring the emissions from incinerators and has allowed this monitoring loophole to go unchecked. We must tighten up monitoring procedures and fully investigate the impact before allowing any further incinerators to be built.”

You can view the entire UKWIN report, ‘Waste incineration and particulate pollution: A failure of governance’, on the UKWIN website.

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