Why China must say NO to incineration

This week we received an email from a stop the incinerator campaigner in China asking if we could help publicise their campaign.

The people of Hangzhou city in the Zhejiang province are facing a plan to build a waste incinerator which will burn 3000 tons of rubbish a day (over a million tons a year).

If you’ve found it tough campaigning against an incinerator in the UK, spare a thought for our brothers and sisters in China.

Like England, there is not enough emphasise on recycling in China.

msw Hangzhou cityOver 90% of the rubbish in Hangzhou does not need to be burned and could be treated through less harmful means than incineration such as recycling, re-use, composting or anaerobic digestion.

This chart is taken from a report on waste in Hangzou City, which states there are already 4 incinerators in the city and no composting facilities. In China as a whole the number of incinerators went up from 66 in 2007 to 109 in 2011, whilst only 4 composting facilities were built in the same period.

In this article below you will see that, ‘local authorities say the project will not go ahead without public support’.  I’m sure this statement is familiar to incinerator campaigners around the world!

bbc china incinerator protest may 2014

Over the five years we have been campaigning against the South London Incinerator, we have faced lies, misinformation and deceit.

Although the local council have done their best to keep the incinerator plans out of the public eye, we have at least been able to protest against it.

In a country where free speech can be difficult, we offer our good wishes and support to those fighting against waste incinerators in China.

reuters china incinerator may 2014

The Chinese authorities, like ours, admit that air pollution is dangerous but claim waste incinerators are safe. They also claim that incineration is being used all over Europe and America and so it must be a good thing.

Here are our top three reasons why China must NOT choose waste incineration.

If nothing bad is coming out there would be no need for a chimney.
A report from the department of health states that there are no safe levels of air pollution. No matter how little they claim incinerators pollute the air, the fact is incinerator emissions will kill people.

These toxic emissions get in to our bodies and in to the food chain, which means even if you are not close enough to breathe in the poisons directly you could be eating food that has been contaminated.

Once these dioxins are in our bodies we cannot get rid of them and they build up over time.  Only the smallest amount is needed to cause harm to the body which can result in cancers and birth defects.

For more information see the British Society for Ecological Medicine report on The Health Effect of Waste incinerators and the Friends of the Earth report, Incineration and Health Issues.

The rubbish will not be properly sorted before it is burned. This means they have no real idea what goes in the furnace and up the chimney.

This can have dangerous consequences like the explosion at Viridor’s Lakeside Incinerator near Heathrow.

Even if the incinerator is carefully monitored, it doesn’t guarantee anything will be done.

The South London Incinerator is allowed to exceed emission limits for up to four hours at a time before it shuts down.

There is nothing to stop it breaching emission levels for 3 hour and 59 minutes over and over again every day.

One waste Incinerator in Dumfries, Scotland, breached emission limits more than 200 times from 2009 until July 2013 when it burned down.

No matter how closely you monitor the emissions, once they are in the air it is too late. You cannot take back air pollution or the harm that is causes.

Waste incinerators can only do one thing and that is burn rubbish. This makes them inflexible to any changes in future waste needs and also encourages more rubbish to feed the furnace.

Birmingham council have recognised this fact and are looking for a more flexible solution to the waste incinerator they have been using.

EFW’s (incinerators) can charge the most per tonne compared to other forms of waste treatment.

An MRF (Material Recovery Facility) is where the rubbish is properly sorted. Not only is this the cheapest option it also creates 10 times more jobs and means the full value can be extracted from the rubbish.

Put simply, only once you have sorted the rubbish do you know what you need to do with it – whether that’s turning it in to a new product or putting it in to IVC (In vessel composting) or AD (Anaerobic Digestion) both of which can create energy and produce an inert product at the end – compost.

With 90% of all rubbish being recyclable or re-usable at the very least we would have to burn a considerably smaller amount than is being suggested at the moment.

The fact that Europe and America have waste incinerators is often cited as a reason why we should have them. Whilst this is spurious reasoning, both Europe and America are now turning their backs on waste incineration.

San Francisco is heading towards zero waste, The French Environment minister recently called for a stop on waste incineration and all studies are now pointing towards an over-capacity of waste treatment facilities in both the UK and Europe.