Irish Examiner - 05-01-06
A major problem with the incineration solution is that it is so poorly thought out. It is not the quick fix our government portrays. It does not make waste disappear, it simply changes it from one form to another. It does not do away with the need for landfill. It produces toxic ash and toxic emissions which ultimately lead to deterioration of the environment. Northern Europe may have some of the highest recycling rates and large numbers of incinerators, but it also has the most polluted air in the Northern hemisphere. Galway City Council have reached recycling rates of more than 50% without incineration – wo we don’tneed to look beyond out shores for role models.
Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE) promotes sustainable waste management. This means regarding waste as a resource. It means embracing newer and better technologies. And it means managing our waste in an environmentally friendly way. In the opinion of international experts such as Martin Keyes from Britain and Professor Ken Guiser from the US, it is premature for Ireland to consider mass incineration at this stage. Much remains to be done in terms of recovery, recycling, separation of waste streams, product redesign and elimination of organic material to landfill. We must observe the upper tiers of the waste management hierarchy, not cherry pick from the bottom.
The truth is, Ireland is not in a position to monitor or regulate incinerator facilities. This was the finding of the government’s commissioned report on the health effects of incineration and landfill carried out by the Health Research Bureau.
At the Environmental Protection Agency oral hearing in 2005, Dr. Anthony Staines of UCD’s Dept. of Public Health and Medicine, said: “In our HRB funded report we noted that Ireland was poorly equipped to assess, monitor, and enforce human health protection”).
There are health effects from incineration even at present EU limits. At an Oral Hearing, Dr. Gavin Ten Tusscher (University of Amsterdam and Emma Childrens Hospital) presented evidence that damage is occurring to the most vulnerable in our society: the young, the unborn and breast feeding infants. The EU are now looking at lowering limits. The US EPA have said there are no safe levels of dioxins. They have also lowered the size of particulate matter due to its effects on health. That the Irish EPA have ignored all this evidence and air-brushed it out of their decision to grant a waste licence, does nothing to assure the public of their commitment to protect the people they are meant to serve.
In relation to the proposed incinerators in Ringaskiddy, the site has failed the World Health Organisation criteria for site selection for Hazardous waste incinerators. Strict adherence to these criteria is vital to the safety of host communities. This is the caveat on which the WHO base any of their support for incineration. That the Ringaskiddy incinerators have failed at the first critical hurdle means that no conditions imposed by the EPA will ever make them safe.
The fact that so many checks and balances have been ignored fully justifies people’s concerns about how business is done in relation to such facilities. Planning does not talk to Health and Safety, who do not talk to the EPA, who pass the buck to the Dept. of Health. The result is that vital issues such as health, environment and monitoring slip through the net.
In the words of the Government’s
own advisors: “Public trust, whether it is placed in the regulators,
in compliance with the regulations or in the information provided,
will be fundamental in achieving even a modicum of consensus for any
future developments in waste policy in Ireland.”
Consumer response to waste separation and recycling has been phenomenal. It shows that there is tremendous willingness on behalf of the public to do “their bit”. But we need kerbside collection, adequate recycling facilities and meaningful financial incentives to make it work. The success of the pay-by-weight scheme means that local authorities are now experiencing a reduction in revenue from waste. Central Government must step into the breach and make funding available to ensure the continued success of the efforts of local authorities. This would show a genuine commitment to recycling on their part. Had this been done in the past we would not have to deal with the scale of illegal dumping we are now witnessing.
Sustainable waste management provides an excellent opportunity for job creation at local level, using waste as a resource. This is being done in other countries with great success. It has been estimated that five thousand jobs can be created in Ireland in this way, jobs which would be sustainable, long-term and local.
The perceived waste management crisis in Ireland is, in fact, a case of mis-management. At the recent National Waste Management Summit, it was clearly stated that recovery and recycling cannot succeed where there is excess landfill and/or incineration capacity.
There is also a need for producers to take responsibility for the waste they produce. Under EU legislation consumers have the right to return unwanted packaging to shops and so to those who produced it. Unfortunately, the concept of Repak makes this impossible in Ireland. Producers pay an annual fee to Repak, who then use this money to promote recycling. While in principle this is a good idea, it is only a fractionf of the cost of disposal of the waste produced. The burden of disposing of packing rests with the consumer, while producers are let off the hook, as can be seen with the WEE directive where the consumer pays. Until producers are forced to take responsibility for the waste they generate, success with waste reduction will be severely hampered.
We have to have a moratorium on mass incineration, until all the more favourable options have been exhausted. To change one’s mind is not a sign of weakness. It merely means that we know more today then we did yesterday.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment