Gloucestershire County Council under fire for 'harmful and wasteful' incinerator

Sue Fenton compiles a collective response to a controversial press release by Gloucestershire County Council, made by six Green Party branches local to the area. 

Gloucester Javelin Park

© Copyright Lewis Clarke (CC BY-SA 2.0) geograph.org.uk

Haresfield: Javelin Park

Sue Fenton

Gloucestershire County Council should be congratulated for making a start on addressing the climate crisis, having reduced its net corporate CO2 emissions by 97 per cent since 2006/7. The decision to sign up to the UK100 pledge of becoming a carbon neutral county by 2045 is also welcome, although this date is at least a decade too late and pledges are no substitute for action. 

The council declared a climate ‘emergency’ in May 2019 and needs to take more action now, not least to mitigate the pollution that will be produced by the planned development of the airport and the building of new roads. The environmental cost of flying will further accelerate global warming and demonstrates the contempt with which county council strategy undermines the Paris Accord.

Meanwhile, some of the claims the council makes to support its boast of being climate friendly do not stand up to scrutiny. Notably, the council is including electricity generated at the Javelin Park Energy-from-Waste plant as part of the transition to a target of 100 per cent green energy. This is deceptive when we know that the emissions from incinerators (13 per cent of all emissions) far outweigh the 2.4 per cent of green energy for which they account. Over its 25-year contract life, Javelin Park will emit the net equivalent of 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere and so is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The council has avoided mentioning this point.

Its statement that Javelin Park has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill is meaningless, since burning plastic (and so creating harmful emissions) is no more environmentally friendly than burying it. Indeed, the presence of incinerators reduces the amount of waste that is recycled, because councils have contractual obligations to provide fuel to feed these polluting monsters. More than 65 per cent of the electricity from Javelin Park comes from burning plastic that could have been recycled. Yet only around 20 per cent per cent of the energy in the plastic ends up as electricity, making it far less efficient than even the worst-performing coal- or oil-burning power station.

The council disingenuously implies in its press release on the subject that it has the approval of Friends of the Earth. Let us be clear that, far from supporting waste incineration, Friends of the Earth is publicly and actively opposed to incinerators.

The cost argument for incineration doesn’t stack up, either. Gloucestershire’s budget for waste disposal has risen by £8.5million since it has been burning waste instead of sending it to landfill – and most of this figure is profit for the Javelin Park operators.

Incineration simply doesn't make sense if the government really wants to reduce CO2 emissions. Incineration is the worst, most expensive and most carbon-intensive way of treating recyclable waste; it is significantly more harmful to the environment than conventional electricity generation from fossil fuels. Moreover, much of what is currently used as incinerator feedstock could instead be recycled or composted. 

If the council is serious about reaching its target of 100 per cent clean energy, and wishes to avoid accusations of ‘greenwashing’, it must divest from this harmful, wasteful and expensive incinerator, with its horrendous carbon footprint, and consider the cleaner and cheaper alternatives that have previously been proposed.

Furthermore, we demand an immediate moratorium on any new Energy-from-Waste plants; this country must stop building incinerators and start focusing on reducing waste through repair, reuse and recycling.

This letter has been signed by Cheltenham Green Party, Cotswold Green Party, Forest of Dean Green Party, Gloucester Green Party, Stroud District Green Party and Tewkesbury Green Party