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.
Rash of new waste incinerators prompts fears for health and recycling
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.”
I note that Ness Energy claim that despite the“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”. 40% of residents of Aberdeen had no recycling facilities until 2016. See point 3 of the email below for confirmation. Data from the £26 million “state of the art” MRF was previously available on the Scotlands Environment website. It now appears I need a username and password to access this. The data from the Altens MRF showed that the recyclate quality was very poor.
[Redacted by site editor]
Sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your e-mail but it has required some investigation and I can respond as follows:-
‘The main problem I am having with Aberdeen City’s waste data is based on the huge fall in waste generated last year. The long term per capita waste generation in the city averages 417 kg – last year it dropped by 34 kg per person to 384 kg per year. The bulk figures reflect this – waste arisings for the city were 96213 tonnes in 2016, and dropped to apparently dropped to 87,787 tonnes in 2017’
I agree with your understanding of the figures and believe that a drop in waste arisings can only be a good thing. It may be as a result of the oil downturn and we may see this figure rise again. Although I would like to put it down to us changing attitudes to waste.
‘The recycling totals for dry recyclates fell from 20,573 in 2016 to 18,971 in 2017. Meanwhile organics recycled went from 16,911 in 2016 to 19,593 in 2017. (The fall in dry recyclates is mainly due to no wood being recycled last year – where did the 4046 tonnes generated end up?)
Well spotted on the organics but very few people realise that this increases and decreases with weather patterns. For example we has a long warm Summer in 2017 with the occasional shower, consequently we received a lot of grass and plant cuttings. In fact last year was the highest rate for green waste so far!
Aberdeen City Council is constantly looking to get best value for money and the recycling of mixed wood types was proving very expensive. Our Waste Management company advised us that using the wood as an energy source for the Markinch EfW was a more acceptable route and provided electricity and heat for what was becoming a very difficult waste stream (MDF, composite woods, laminated woods etc.) So the wood was diverted and absorbed into the Energy from Waste figure.
Every quarter Aberdeen City Council is obligated to provide waste returns to SEPA in an accepted format. This process is lengthy, time consuming and is validated 3 times before it is presented to SEPA for publication. Checks and balances are rigorous and robust and SEPA have several sources with which they can compare our figures. They will also question the results if they feel they are inaccurate. Needless to say they have several years of data which will allow them to see any patterns or trends.
Finally, the delivery of a fully segregated recycling service to all in an urban environment is extremely challenging. A mixed recycling service delivers the following benefits;
A more efficient collection service
A simpler, more user-friendly system for the customer
It enables the provision of a citywide service. Previously whose in high density areas (approximately 40% of the population of Aberdeen) had little or no access to local recycling collection.
At the same time a state-of-the-art separation facility enables the output of materials of a quality comparable to a source segregated service. The definition of what is ‘target’ and ‘non-target’ is set by the MRF operators themselves. This defines what priority and quality levels are set on the output material as the levels of segregation/purity in recyclable materials can vary greatly. Paper is a good example, there are many grades of recyclable paper from high grade best white (nice, clean office paper) down to mixed papers (which is a mix of all papers and generally does not contain a significant amount of high grade paper) These grades will have different uses. High grade paper is used to make quality paper for printing on and needs to be a very good grade. The lower grade paper is used to make things like egg boxes where quality is not so important. Each MRF will have a grade of paper to which they are aiming to separate. In Aberdeen’s case, we are targeting high quality news and pams grade. So in the reporting it is our news and pams grade that is the target. The other material is non-target and we are aiming to extract as much of that from the news and pams as possible.
However, just because it is a non-target material does not mean that it does not get recycled. That is why the report shows non-target and then non-recyclable. So the non-target material may not meet the specification that we are aiming for but it is still recycled as a lower grade paper. The same goes for all the other materials reported.
In reality, the content of the recyclable material in the output of the MRF is the sum of target and non-target material. So, the output material from the Aberdeen MRF is just under 97% recyclate
I hope this goes someway to answering your concerns.
[Name redacted by site editor]
[Name redacted by site editor] | Waste Contracts Manager
Aberdeen City Council | Waste & Recycling | Operations | Operations & Protective Services
Altens East Recycling & Resource Facility | Hareness Place | Aberdeen | AB12 3GX
http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk | Twitter: @AberdeenCC | Facebook.com/AberdeenCC
A number of flaws in NESS Energy’s proposition. Such is the high carbon intensity per kWh of any electricity produced by the incinerator, it will breach by a huge margin the benchmark carbon intensity for new generating capacity being added to the National Grid. That benchmark has been set by BEIS as part of UK government policy to decarbonise the National Grid by 2050. The benchmark goes down year by year, while the carbon intensity of electricity from the incinerator would be unchanged, widening the margin year on year. In other words, connecting the incinerator would undermine government policy to decarbonise the Grid; energy from the incinerator is high carbon (even when biogenic carbon is factored in) and is completely without value at a moment in time when we urgently need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The main purpose of an incinerator is, and always has been, to convert solid waste into ash and larger volumes of gases which unfortunately are now known to warm the climate. It’s a greenhouse gas factory. As for the feedstock – around 50% of typical “black binbag waste” is actually recyclable. It’s a lack of organisation and political will which allows failures of proper collection and separation. It’s unlikely this incinerator is really “needed”.