Advice to local & national UK government on how to avoid incineration 2001 - 2003

Simultaneous with warnings about the negative impacts of incineration and direct actions to shut the UK's worst polluting incinerators, Greenpeace UK advocated very strongly the use of alternative methods of waste collection and treatment which would allow local waste authorities to route waste away from landfill without resorting to incineration. Two booklets were published ("How to comply...." and "Cool Waste Management") and these were influential in persuading some local councils to reassess their plans. A template was also prepared with expert advice for a localised Zero Waste strategy; this was made freely available to local campaigners, Greenpeace and non-Greenpeace, who wished to add local data and use the template to encourage their local council to adopt a non-incinerator plan.

In brief, these documents advocated source-separated collection of recyclables, with mechanical biological treatment followed by landfill of the inert or nearly inert residue. The separate collection and treatment of food waste and other biodegradable waste is fundamentally important.

Unfortunately, these powerful campaign strategies were undermined by several factors. Central government in London failed to accept the health & pollution arguments against incineration, or argued that the effects were less important than the "need" for incinerators. Central government also guaranteed private sector finance for the building of incinerators, with a bias towards projects with large upfront infrastructure costs. The Environment Agency was hesitant about the uses to which the residues of MBT (mechanical biological treatment) could be safely put, other than incineration, stifling the market for their use in agriculture. Local government waste and planning officers were often under-resourced and lacked the confidence to resist the pressure from large "expert" waste companies to accept their long-term "solutions" based on incineration. Sadly, therefore, many of the incinerators warned of by Greenpeace in 2001 have come to be built.

Present day campaigns against new incinerators in the UK are more focused on the climate change impacts, on their negative impacts on recycling, and on the failure of new technologies (eg. pyrolysis and gasification incinerators) to operate at commercial scale and within emission limits.

Campaigners wishing to use these documents now should remember some of the data have changed, technologies have advanced and waste treatment regulations may have also changed. However the local strategy template may still be useful in local Zero Waste initiatives if the national data are updated and current local data added.