'Why we believe there's a better, achievable alterative to the incinerator' 

Jane Leggett is part of Extinction Rebellion Highgate and the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now campaign

Jane Leggett is part of Extinction Rebellion Highgate and the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now campaign - Credit: Archant

Over the past two years, campaigning against the new, larger Edmonton incinerator has become an important part of my life. You might think that now the decision has been taken by the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to award the rebuild contract, the battle is over.

On the contrary. An ever-increasing number of residents within the seven north London boroughs are redoubling our efforts.  

The Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now campaign will be marching (including in Edmonton on January 16); taking legal action; involving the public in the debate; participating fully in council elections in May; and sharing information the public should have been given already. 

Let me persuade you to join us, because there is a much better, achievable alternative (sketched at the end of this piece) that will inevitably replace incineration as the go-to method of waste management.  

This alternative is in line with government CO2 reduction targets and policies designed to reduce the amount of waste we produce, and it involves amazing technological advances.  

If we don’t stop the rebuild, we will be left with a stranded asset draining taxpayer money away from desperately-needed efforts to minimise waste. 

Protesters outside the Haringey full council meeting, December 9

Protesters outside the Haringey full council meeting, December 9 - Credit: Jane Leggett

Let’s take a look at four eye-watering facts. 

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First, the Mayor of London estimates that even without the new Edmonton incinerator, London will have 250,000 tonnes of surplus energy-from-waste incineration capacity in the near future. We simply don’t need an incinerator in Edmonton.  

Second, air pollution is already reaching dangerously high levels locally. Go to Edmonton – one of the most deprived and diverse areas in the UK – and you will be exposed to vastly more hazardous levels of pollution. 

Third, the “massive oversizing” of the Edmonton plant was acknowledged by the CEO of Acciona, the Spanish company that intends to sign the incinerator construction contract with the NLWA next Tuesday, January 18. He also questioned the argument for more incineration capacity in London.

Fourth, barring government intervention, 50 new incinerators will be in operation in the UK by 2030, doubling the nation’s incineration capacity and locking us into an additional 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year (see xrzerowaste.uk). 

Stop the Edmonton Incinerator and Doctors Against the Edmonton Incinerator protestors, December 4

Stop the Edmonton Incinerator and Doctors Against the Edmonton Incinerator protesters, December 4 - Credit: Jane Leggett

Unsurprisingly, the ground is beginning to shift. The Welsh Assembly is showing the way towards zero waste. A cross-party group of MPs has come out against all increases in CO2 emissions. A consultation is taking place against single-use plastic.  

And north Londoners are recognising that building a new incinerator in Edmonton undermines the transition to a circular economy, to which the Government says it is committed. 

Here are four straightforward, incineration-free solutions. 

First, set up an NLWA waste prevention, reuse and recycling improvement fund to disburse £10 million per year.  

The aim: enable local authorities and community organisations to boost collections, waste prevention efforts, and awareness raising campaigns.  

The funding source: package producers’ payments to local authorities, via the extended producer responsibility scheme that will be in place by 2024. Based on DEFRA calculations, the scheme will transfer £900 million per year to local authorities across the UK.  

Second, invest in a 700,000-tonne mixed-waste sorting and plastics recycling facility at the EcoPark in Edmonton.  

Thanks to recent technological advances, such an integrated facility can recover, upgrade and recycle the majority of plastics and nearly all metals, drink cartons, and paper & card that wind up in black bags.  

The results: a 70% reduction in north London’s non-recyclable waste and substantial income generation from sales of recycled plastics. 

Third, bring the seven north London councils’ Reduction and Recycling Plans in line with legislative changes.  

The UK has set a recycling target of 65% by 2035, and the Greater London Authority is aiming for the same by 2030. The ambition of the NLWA and its constituent councils should be to reach these targets.  

Fourth, ensure that any remaining non-recyclable waste is disposed of in the most environmentally-friendly manner.  

London will have 2.15 million tonnes of incinerator capacity by 2025, including plants in Bexley, Sutton and Bermondsey. The two incinerators in Bexley are expected to be equipped with carbon capture and storage technology by 2026, allowing them to capture 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Jane Leggett is part of Extinction Rebellion Highgate and the Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now campaign.