Opinion: Do not let the incinerator be forgotten

Dorothea Hackman is shocked by the selfishness of some behaviour during the coronavirus outbreak.

Dorothea Hackman is shocked by the selfishness of some behaviour during the coronavirus outbreak. - Credit: Archant

With so much happening in the pandemic, we need to remember not to let damaging projects like the new Edmonton Incinerator slip past in the crisis.

First though, I would note the very un-British panic buying brought on by decades of neoliberal individualism. We are shamed by our lack of collective concern for the most vulnerable in the community. How can our supermarkets be stripped bare as if by locusts and it’s not even Brexit? Where will all the rough sleepers go? How will the children of people whose jobs have suddenly disappeared eat without free meals when our schools close? How will the foodbanks cope with massively increased demand? And can the NHS rally? Now we truly see the vicious fractures of austerity.

At Euston Foodbank, for example, the volunteers are continuing with four distribution sessions a week, using supplies donated from home counties foodbanks collected in zip vans last month. This was good planning for we cannot even buy long life milk to put in the food parcels, even for families with children, and donations have withered away.

Yet just in two sessions this week Euston Foodbank supported 112 households, already more than in a normal week. Over last year we supported six thousand individuals, at this rate the number will double. Check the website for how you can help: we need volunteer drivers, and UHT milk. euston.foodbank.org.uk/give-help/

There are mutual aid groups springing up, for example see Camden Covic-19 Mutual Aid facebook.com/groups/199172994722225/ so we will tie in with them, and with the front line professionals who issue foodbank vouchers, so we can assure data protection and safeguarding as well as anti-virus distancing measures.

Returning to the issue of how our councils dispose of rubbish – NLWA (North London Waste Authority) burns it. Because they can – we have an incinerator. Other areas recycle 60 per cent but because we have an easier way we don’t even manage 30pc, which is well short of the 50pc target for 2020. What is worse is that we are burning up to 90pc of plastic, and the NWLA has permission to build an even bigger incinerator.

As well as polluting the area, this is terrible for the planet, due to the current annual release of 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases. These cause higher temperatures which mean more rain and floods for some as warmer air doesn’t hold moisture, and more bushfires for others in hot dry conditions.

It is essential that we produce less plastic, generate less rubbish and recycle more. We cannot push this problem onto future generations. It is not good enough to make excuses like the incinerator is of the less polluting kind, doesn’t release as much carbon dioxide as people think, and isn’t as damaging as landfill. It only costs the polluter less than landfill because there is no fine for incinerating rubbish.

Extinction Rebellion has been supported by experts to produce a detailed letter with evidence cited, setting out the problem and indicating solutions; stop-edmonton-incinerator.org/extinction-rebellion-letter/

The letter has been sent to all councillors in the seven boroughs the incinerator services, and asks that construction be paused while a detailed review including the environmental cost be carried out.

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NLWA says Extinction Rebellion is wrong to say the incinerator will release 700,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, that it would only be half that (as if that weren’t bad enough). How can this be when the present incinerator with a capacity to burn 500,000 tons released 581,019 tons of CO2 according to NLWA’s own figures and government pollution inventory data records?

This is partly because NLWA are creatively ignoring that when you burn carbon materials it combines with oxygen to produce CO2 and they must count all carbon not just fossil fuels. And partially because they are subtracting power generation as if the pollution hasn’t happened. The present incinerator generates power so it is not new, just replacement.

Aside from these massive issues of actual damage the new incinerator would cause the planet, having such a big over capacity of large scale waste incineration would lock north London into high emission infrastructure for decades, when it must decline to zero by 2050 to reach the national target, by 2030 for most boroughs.

We need to stop walking blindfold down a path that might have seemed reasonable in 2015, but now we know is as wrong as building additional runways.