In 2018 the team at PFH went on a whistle stop tour of the facilities that deal with our rubbish. Firstly we went to the MRF (Materials Recycling Facility) where Hackney's recycling goes to be processed followed by a trip to the Edmonton ‘Eco Park’ where our residual waste (ie black sack rubbish) is processed, otherwise known as burnt (or incinerated to give it its fancier name).
Now whilst we've always had an aversion to waste it was visiting the incinerator (or Mordor as I like to call it) that the shocking scale of the problem was revealed - looking back at the video and seeing the look on our faces I’m reminded of just how horrific it was! It's worth noting that we were forbidden from taking any films or photographs at the incinerator, unlike the recycling centre where filming was welcomed.
The NLWA (North London Waste Authority) who run the Incinerator like us to think that they’re doing us all a favour - if anything they're the good guys! They take our rubbish and instead of sending it to landfill are creating energy from waste - in fact they really don't like being called an incinerator and in a stroke of genius greenwashing prefer to be known as an Energy Recovery Facility… the problem is though this simply isn't true.
What is true is the shocking scale of our waste problem, which in turn is really a consumption problem; after all, all that stuff being burnt was initially a purchase. And whilst here at PFH we talk a lot about things that we can do to reduce the amount of SUP we use and generally how to live better by consuming less what we don't really talk about it how the system we live in can either help facilitate change or carry on with the status quo exacerbating the problem.
According to the Committee on Climate Change: “Achieving significant emission reductions in the waste sector requires a step-change towards a circular economy, moving away from landfill and incineration (and the associated methane and fossil CO₂ emissions), and towards a reduction in waste arisings and collection of separated valuable resources for re-use and recycling”
Which very much goes against the plans that the NLWA have to build a new oversized incinerator at a cost of £1.2 billion of taxpayers money - something that we, alongside a number of other campaign groups, are massively against.
It's an easy argument to make that turning our rubbish into energy is a good thing, however this simplistic perspective does not take into account the very damaging toxic pollution, including tiny particle pollution created by burning our waste.
If the new incinerator goes ahead it is predicted to emit 700 thousand tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere every year. If this waste was recycled instead of burnt, this could simply be avoided.
Currently less than 30% of north London’s (the areas the NLWA cover) rubbish and only 10% of recyclable plastic is recycled compared to over 60% in the rest of the country. Nearly 90% of our black bag rubbish is burnt as “skyfill” (think landfill but now in the form of toxic pollution blowing in the wind) in the present Edmonton incinerator.
Studies indicate that most of what is currently in the ‘residual’ waste stream is readily recyclable, meaning a significant proportion of what is currently incinerated could have been recycled or composted - if incinerators limited their feedstock to genuinely residual waste then it would free up more than half of their current capacity, undermining the rationale for building new incinerators in the UK.
To find out more about the environmental implications of incineration see: