Aberdeenshire Council is being urged to scrap plans for a new waste incinerator with warnings that it could be harmful to public health, the environment and the local economy.
The independent councillor for Mid Formartine, Paul Johnston, has lodged a motion for discussion at a council meeting on 7 March opposing building the £150 million incinerator near Torry in Aberdeen. He claimed the plant would undermine Scottish Government recycling policy and could be an economic failure due to changing legislation.
Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen and Moray councils are all due to decide in the next few days whether the controversial incinerator should get the go-ahead. Officials from the three councils are expected to recommend that councillors back the scheme.
Campaign groups have called the proposed plant an “unnecessary financial and environmental risk” that will need to be fed plastic and other materials for decades, materials they say should be recycled instead. Community councils said that their concerns had been “constantly ignored and dismissed”.
The plant’s operators, however, stressed that the incineration was necessary for waste disposal and energy, and promised it would be environmentally responsible and produce affordable energy.
Johnston’s motion, intended as a “preemptive strike” to try and block the incinerator, calls on the council to cease its involvement in the NESS Energy Project. This is a joint scheme by Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen and Moray councils to build a plant at East Tullos industrial estate to burn waste and generate energy.
The proposal won initial planning approval in 2016. The aim is to have the incinerator built and operational by 2021, when a Scottish Government ban on dumping waste in landfill sites comes into force.
The Ferret has reported concerns by the waste industry that Scotland may fail to meet the deadline for the landfill ban, resulting in a million tonnes of waste a year being transported to landfill sites in England.
But Johnston argued that the proposed incinerator would generate a large demand for waste that would act as a “perverse incentive” and damage moves to boost recycling and minimise waste. There were “high levels of risk” associated with regulation changes that could leave Aberdeenshire “with costs for an obsolete plant”, he said.
According to his motion, incinerators caused climate pollution and emitted “many toxins, pollutants and microscopic particles that can be harmful to human health and the natural environment.” He cited research suggesting that burning one tonne of waste produces around a tonne of carbon dioxide.
Johnston said that incineration was “contrary” to the Scottish Government’s policy for a “circular economy” introduced in 2016. The policy advocates maximising the lifespan of resources, reducing the need for raw materials and improving recycling.
Research for the UK government has predicted that a circular economy would create over 205,000 new jobs, reduce unemployment by 54,000 and offset 11 per cent of future losses in skilled employment.
Aberdeenshire Council was playing “a game of financial roulette with the health of people and the environment and the creation of a vast expensive white elephant,” Johnston told The Ferret.
“The only decision that the council should take given all the facts, regulation and evidence is to move forward towards recovery of materials in a circular economy rather than backwards to an old solution waiting to be phased out.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland suggested that Scottish government plans to introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic containers would make the economics of new incinerators look “more and more shaky”.
The environmental group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon, said: “The Aberdeen incinerator is clearly much bigger than it needs to be to deal with waste from the city and its neighbours, and in the future the operators will be importing waste from all over the north of Scotland to feed their monster.
“This plant should be abandoned. But if the council are not brave enough to do that, it should be halved in size.”
Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network, warned that “investing in new incineration capacity while the rest of society is moving towards recycling and the circular economy represents not only a backwards step but also an unnecessary financial and environmental risk.”
He added: “If one takes account of the huge costs to society of the emissions from incineration, both in terms of pollution and greenhouse gases, the numbers simply do not stack up.”
The Ferret reported in 2017 that eleven huge new waste incinerators were being planned across Scotland in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Lothian, Fife and elsewhere, in addition to those already operating in Dundee and Shetland.
Catherine Cowie, secretary of Kincorth and Leggart Community Council, said that all community councils in close proximity to the proposed Aberdeen plant had objected to it being built. “Questions were constantly ignored when asked in steering group meetings,” she claimed.
Nigg Community Council also said that its views had been sidelined. Concerns had been “conveniently omitted from the minutes” during the consultation process, according to the council’s chair, Alan Strachan.
“Despite putting forward our objections, substantiated with evidence from some very prominent and learned experts, our objections and evidence were constantly ignored and dismissed,” he added.
NESS Energy, however, has emphasised that modern plants are not like incinerators of old because they burn non-recyclable waste cleanly, conform to strict emissions standards and produce heat and electricity. The district of Torry near the planned incinerator would benefit from low energy bills, it said.
Despite councils’ “best efforts to reduce residual waste through minimisation campaigns, recycling, composting and use of other treatments, a substantial quantity of residual waste that is generated will still need to be collected and cannot be landfilled anymore,” NESS Energy added.
“This facility provides a local, long term, sustainable solution for managing waste that cannot be recycled”.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said that the incinerator would need a permit which would require the operator “to demonstrate that all the appropriate preventative measures are taken against pollution”. No permit application had so far been received.
The Scottish Government stressed that plans for the Aberdeen incinerator were “a matter for local authorities”. The government’s preference was to see waste reduced, reused or recycled, but incineration was a necessary part of the management of residual waste in order to reduce reliance on landfills, said a spokesperson.
Aberdeenshire Council confirmed they had received Johnston’s motion and it would be discussed by councillors on 7 March.
A spokesperson for Aberdeen City Council said that NESS were “unable to comment on motions or reports in advance of councillors discussing these at committee.”