Municipal Waste Incinerator


(With due acknowledgement to the Campaign against the Leeds Incinerator, but we think we have a better picture!)

In October 2006 the Council's Executive Board adopted an Integrated Waste Strategy for Leeds 2005 - 2035. Much of the Council's waste strategy is worthy and unexceptional, except for key themes 5 and 8. These include an "energy from waste" solution, intended to be fully operational by 2013.

Stripped of the marketing and spin, this means a municipal waste incinerator. It would almost certainly be financed through PFI credits (Private Finance Initiative) and delivered in partnership with a private sector waste operator.

There are two separate problems with this proposal:

  1. Incinerator technology has improved considerably over the years, but it is still not perfect. Some of the everyday materials that might be present in the municipal waste stream (for example, discarded batteries and wet vinyl wallpaper scrapings) are capable of generating hugely toxic by-products on partial combustion. In theory, with an average mixed waste stream, providing the furnace is operated properly, and there are no unusual loads, and the correct temperatures are achieved, and there is excess oxygen, and there is efficient electrostatic precipitation for fly ash, and the exhaust gases are scrubbed, then the waste stream should be reasonably safe. But if the load is unusual, or if any of the above conditions are not satisfied, then the system is unlikely to meet its toxic emission targets.

  2. The furnace needs a continuous steady input for efficient operation. If there is insufficient waste available, the intention is to burn biomass (i.e. wood, straw and plant materials) instead. The problem with this is that it provides absolutely no financial incentive to improve Leeds' dismal recycling rates. What is the point in the operators pulling items from the waste stream, it they then have to buy in farm waste to replace them?

The range of recyclable materials is increasing daily. For example, the manufacturer's website demonstrates that the previously intractable "Tetra Pak" products used for soups, milk and fruit juices are now capable of recovery. There is a recycling plant in operation. This website is worthy of detailed study, because it shows how difficult recycling problems can be solved. It is short-sighted and irresponsible for Leeds City Council to opt for a waste strategy that would prevent this happening.

Potential incinerator sites are likely to prove highly contentious and the ruling coalition refuses to say where any new facility would be built. There is a 2.2 hectare municipal waste site in Kirkstall at Evanston Avenue (off Kirkstall Road) which is lagely vacant following a fire about 3 years ago. This is already licensed for hazardous wastes, and must have been considered for incineration, although the "official" account says it is too small. If this is really true, then it is worrying, because it suggests that the administration is negotiating on a truly enormous scheme. Long-term Kirkstall residents may remember the fly ash problems from the old Kirkstall power station that operated until 1976 on the adjacent land.

The Leeds Labour Group is opposed to municipal incineration, on any site, and will seek alternative solutions. We cannot say that absolutely nothing should be burned, because there are some minor components (such as infected clinical waste) for which there is no satisfactory alternative. But we are resolutely opposed to any contract that locks the city into a fixed tonnage of ordinary domestic waste or biomass to be burned each day.

We are astonished by the vacillating behaviour of the three Green Party councillors on this important issue:

Farnley & Wortley Green Party change of policy on incineration

Taken from the Green Party 2004 election ward letter entitled ‘How we Stand on Some of These Issues’:

• Increase targets for recycling and reduce the wastestream. This does not include the use of incineration, which we believe is environmentally unacceptable.

Taken from Farnley & Wortley Green Party website published 29th November 2006

“The new Waste Strategy for Leeds recently passed by the council's Executive Board and confirmed by full council includes proposals for an energy-from-waste plant. Cllr Ann Blackburn negotiated on behalf of the three Green Group councillors to obtain safeguards and an undertaking that before proceeding in the future with any energy-from-waste plant a further decision of the council's Executive Board will be needed.

Not to keep an option open at this stage for such a plant could be financially disastrous for the City of Leeds in the coming years, as towns and cities that do not burn their waste may have to send it to landfill and incur high landfill charges, but the Green Group councillors remain in principle in favour of options that do not include such a plant.”

A legacy of inaction by Farnley & Wortley Green Party

7th September 2006: YEP reports leader David Blackburn stating: “I shall wait to see what’s in the waste strategy report due to come before the Executive Board before deciding how to react”

25th September 2006: YP reports "Three Greens appear to be keeping their options open” regarding the Waste Strategy."

18th October 2006: Green leader Cllr Blackburn does not attend Executive Board meeting which gave Incinerator plans the go-ahead.

25th October 2006: He cites a meeting with a council officer about climate change as the reason he did not attend Executive Board meeting. Cllr David Blackburn: “If we are going to solve the problem of reducing waste significantly that’s in the hands of central government. It would be remiss of us as a party to throw out one of the options at this stage.”

1st November 2006: Green Cllrs back Labour resolution asking for a full debate on the Waste Strategy. Cllr Blackburn calls this a “matter of conscience with us and on that basis we will be voting for the reference back.”

13th December 2006: Green councillors vote against Labour resolution: "This Council is concerned that incineration is the central part of the Waste Management Strategy and calls on the Chief Executive to bring forward alternative options for a wide ranging public debate." Instead they backed the formation of a council working group, operating behind closed doors. Cllr Blackburn spent most of the debate out of the chamber and allowed his least experienced colleague Cllr Luke Russell to speak instead. Some key quotations from this speech, taken from the Council verbatim report:

“We agreed to support the idea of the setting up of a working group as the most effective way of reviewing the situation and coming up with a sensible way forward on how to deal with the waste that our city generates.”

“Bearing that in mind, it is important that we set aside the politics and sit down together and act in a constructive way to come up with viable solutions to the massive challenges we face and solutions that we can all accept.”

“We believe that were Labour in power in this city they would have already adopted this waste strategy and we would definitely be building an incinerator.”

“I have got to admit, I was slightly puzzled by the motion. Labour want us to explore the alternatives to incineration. I have got to ask, what do they think we have been doing since we started looking into the matter?”

24th January 2007: Cllr David Blackburn reveals in an Executive Board meeting that the Greens will finally be joining Labour to oppose the incinerator proposal. This is over four months after the incinerator plans were initially given the go-ahead.

21st February 2007: All three Green Councillors vote for the Coalition budget despite £350,000 been allocated to pursue “the chosen waste solution” of an incinerator. Cllr Wakefield calls a vote for the Coalition budget “a vote for incineration.”

Last updated 29 November 2008 at 20:11. Back to the top

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Promoted by John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU