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Green Building Press

Green Incineration Claims Misleading

14 September 2006

Waste companies who make fraudulent claims such as "Waste which is not recycled will be converted into green energy" (1) when describing their electricity generating incinerators, have been attacked by Friends of the Earth.

Claims that incineration produces "green" and "renewable" energy, have been shown to be just hot air after new research by FOE showed that a standard British waste to energy incinerator produces more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels (such as plastics in rubbish) than a gas-fired power station. The environmental organisation is presenting to MPs the results of a detailed study into the climate pollution from incinerators.

The independent study shows that currently, electricity-only incinerators produce 33 per cent more fossil fuel derived CO2 per unit energy generated than a gas fired power station. By 2020, with increases in recycling and improved technology, these incinerators will be almost as polluting in terms of CO2 emissions as new or refitted coal fired power stations, and 78 per cent worse than new gas power stations.

The situation is predicted to get worse in the future, as carbon dioxide emissions from incinerators are predicted to increase due to a higher percentage of fossil-fuel containing plastics in the waste they burn.

The study also shows that the UK could invest in a real renewable energy-from-waste technology, anaerobic digestion, which takes kitchen and commercial food waste and converts it into methane that can then be burnt. The resulting residue can then be used as compost.The Government is currently reviewing its new waste strategy. One of the strategies core principles is to "reduce the impact of waste on climate change." Despite this, the consultation document does not even mention anaerobic digestion, and instead focusses on incineration.

Friends of the Earth's Senior Waste Campaigner, Dr Michael Warhurst said: "The Government and waste industry must stop peddling the myth that waste incineration is green energy. Incinerators can generate electricity, but they produce more climate emissions than a gas-fired power station. The Government must make it clear that they will not support the building of such polluting plants. Using these incinerators to produce energy will undermine Government attempts to tackle climate change. Ministers must back truly renewable energy sources instead."

UK carbon dioxide emissions have risen under Labour. The Government must back calls for a new law committing successive UK governments to annual reductions in carbon dioxide. The call, which is part of The Big Ask climate campaign, is supported by 75 per cent of the population and most MPs.

(1).The following statements were found in incinerator company literature and web sites:

Onyx (part of Veolia) (when describing their electricity-only incinerators): "Energy recovery can make an important contribution towards sustainable development as a source of renewable energy…" http://www.onyxgroup.co.uk/pages/rdefw.asp

SITA (when describing their electricity-only incinerators): "National policy recognises energy-from-waste (EfW) as an integral part of the waste solution for the UK, and as an important source of green energy." http://www.sita.co.uk/what-we-do/energy-from-waste

WRG: "Waste which is not recycled will be converted into Green Energy". Quote from their literature relating to their plan to build a waste incinerator (generating electricity only) in Hull. "Waste Management News Salt End Planning Information Issue 2", WRG, 2005