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All you need to know about burning rubbish

It produces toxic emissions and nano particles that are harmful to human health and greenhouse gases that are bad for the environment.

1 in 12 people die from air pollution in London every year.  Burning rubbish adds to the pollution in the air and will kill more 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, see this link and these Friends of the Earth reports explain it well: The Incinerator FAQ’s & Incineration and Health Issues.

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What goes up, must come down.  Here are some of the things that come out of a waste incinerator.  Find out here what happens when these emissions breach ‘safe’ limits.

Particulate Matter (PM)

Contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer.

Sulphur dioxide

Hospital reports show a mortality increase on days with higher SO2 levels.

Affects the respiratory system and the functions of the lungs, and causes irritation of the eyes. When SO2 combines with water, it forms sulfuric acid; this is the main component of acid rain.

Nitrogen oxide

They can form a photochemical smog through reaction with sunlight. It can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is a major greenhouse gas and 310 times more impact per unit weight than carbon dioxide.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Causes bronchitis in asthmatic children and reduced lung function growth.

The South London Incinerator will produce 296 tonnes of NO2 a year – the equivalent in weight of 25 double decker buses


Contributes to several environmental problems, including direct toxic effects on vegetation, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, and the formation of secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere, with effects on human health, atmospheric visibility and global radiative balance.

Hydrogen Chloride

Hydrogen chloride is a sensory and respiratory irritant. Being highly soluble in water, following inhalation the gas is readily deposited in the nose and upper respiratory tract.

Hydrogen fluoride

Can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Hydrogen fluoride gas is highly corrosive and will damage metal structures and buildings or monuments made of limestone.

If high levels of Hydrogen fluoride gas dissolve in water, aquatic organisms will be harmed and even killed. Hydrogen fluoride gas can attach itself to particles in the air, which are then deposited on soils or plants.

Carbon Dioxide

Know for many years as a major contributor to greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.  CO2 also increases the acidity of the oceans.

Carbon Monoxide

Reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood and interferes with oxygen release at the tissues. those at greater risk of adverse effects from CO exposure are people with heart problems, asthma, pregnant women, Fetuses and young infants.

Volatile Organic Compounds

They can form a photochemical smog through reaction with sunlight. It can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases.

VOC’s include heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium.


Apart from the chimney emissions, about 28% of the rubbish going in, comes out the other end as ash which has to be taken elsewhere for further processing.

About 8% of the ash is so dangerous it is classed as hazardous waste and this has to be disposed of in specialist landfill sites.

For the South London Incinerator there will be about 10,000 tonnes of this hazardous waste a year.

That’s about 3 skip loads of extremely toxic ash a day being driven through our streets.

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Waste incinerators are proven to be a disincentive to waste reduction.  Because councils are tied in to a contract to feed the furnace, waste incinerators are an inflexible solution that can do only one thing and that is burn rubbish.

An over capacity of waste incinerators in Europe has resulted in many countries having to import waste and burn recyclables.

There is already an over capacity of waste treatment facilities in the UK .  We do NOT need to build anymore waste incinerators.

The waste companies are perpetrating a myth that there is an urgent waste problem that can only be solved through incineration.

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If the facilities were provided we could recycle or reuse over 90% of all our rubbish. Recycling saves more energy than is produced from burning it.

A number of places are striving for zero waste, with San Fransisco setting the standard currently with over 80% recycling.

Recycling produces 10 times more jobs and extracts far more value from the waste incineration.

The small amount that is left over can be treated in far less dangerous ways than burning it.

Anearobic Digestion and In Vessel Composting are good alternatives to burning our rubbish. Both these methods of waste treatment result in a safe compost type material at the end and can generate energy by utilising the gases they produce.

Waste Companies make more money from throwing it all in and burning it than they do from properly sorting it first and treating it in other less dangerous ways.

Instead of treating rubbish like a resource we need to move towards a zero waste strategy.

For more information on the alternatives we recommend this Friends of the Earth link.

Ultimately the way to solve our waste problem is to make less of it and to ensure that whatever packaging and materials we throw away, they are made from organic matter to ensure they break down easily.

The only way this can be acheived is through a change in law and unfortunately successive governments have failed to take action.

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No!  Waste Companies make more money from burning rubbish than they do from treating it in less harmful ways.

2013 Figures from WRAP show incineration can cost over 4 times as much per tonne as anaerobic digestion.

This is reflected in the figures for 2014 too:

wrap report 2014

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NO!  Incinerators produce dangerous toxic emissions and greenhouse gases.

Incinerators produce about 1 tonne of CO2 for every tonne of rubbish burned.

incineration worse than coal

The South London Incinerator will produce 296 tonnes of NO2 a year – the equivalent in weight of 25 double decker buses

Waste incinerators are a very inefficient way to produce energy due to the variable feedstock – one moment it will be plastic and  the next wet food waste.

Incinerators can only do one thing and that is burn waste which makes them a disincentive to waste reduction.

Viridor have admitted that no heat will be supplied to anyone at least for the first several years of operation, which means it will NOT be a combined heat and power plant as agreed.  However, planning permission was given knowing this fact.

To find out more about why the waste heat won’t every be used read this article.

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All you need to know about the South London Incinerator

A mass burn waste incinerator being built by Viridor for the South London Waste Partnership of four London boroughs – Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston.

The incinerator has come about as a result of the South London Waste Plan.

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On Beddington Farmlands in Sutton on land that has been set aside for a country park.  Please see this map for the location.

One million people live within 10 miles of the South London Incinerator.

You can see how many schools there are within close proximity of the South London Incinerator, here.

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Building work was due to begin in 2014 and it take 3-4 years to complete.  But due to the continued efforts of Stop the Incinerator we have managed to delay the building work.

Whilst the legal challenge continues construtions cannot begin.

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The whole site is 2.75 hectares – equivalent to nearly 4 Wembley Stadium football pitches.

The building is 109 metres (357ft) long x 74 metres (242ft) wide x 42 metres (137ft) tall with 2 x 95 metre (311 ft) chimneys (this is excludng out buildings).

This is equivalent in size to an aircraft hanger with chimneys almost as tall as Big Ben.

incinerator comparison

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For more photos of the site we recommend Peter Alfrey’s Blog.

The site as it is today.northern lake, beddington farmlands PA

before resize

Artist impression with the Incinerator.artists impression of incinerator view 1

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Apart from the obvious health impacts of building it next to the most populated borough in London, it will destroy some of the most important wetland habitat in the country.

This incinerator is being built on a site that’s supposed to be protected from development as it’s both Metropolitan Open Land (which has the same status as Green Belt Land) and is also a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.

Home to a diverse range of wildlife including 145 different species of birds and the largest tree sparrow population in the South East.

The incinerator will devastate the environment and our health. Find out why we must save it here.

The incinerator is being built in an air quality management area (AQMA) , which means it is already too polluted and the council needs to work harder to reduce pollution.

They got round this by increasing the heights of the two chimneys from 85 metres to 95 metres (311 ft). (1)  This will help disperse the toxic emissions beyond the AQMA and spread them over a wide area.


(1) 6.70 pg 70

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300,000 tonnes a year for the next 25 years.

That’s equivalent in weight to 68 double decker buses of rubbish a day.

68 buses

To maximise their profit, Viridor have tied the council in to a long term fixed base load contract to burn more rubbish than is available locally.

This means Viridor have a guaranteed supply of rubbish for the next 25 years and at least a third of this rubbish will have to be imported from elsewhere.

This is a big disincentive to reducing the amount of waste we produce.

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No. Unlike the rest of us Viridor do not have separate their rubbish for recycling, they just throw it all in and burn it.

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.

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During construction there will be about 770 lorries day and once operational about 666 a day.

That’s 55 an hour.55 lorries an hour a

Diesal Fumes cause cancer

There’s not enough waste locally to fill the incinerator, so it will be driven in from all over the country.

There is no contractual requirement for the lorries to follow a specific route.  Lorries carrying hazardous waste could be coming down your road soon.

The incinerator will produce over 75,000 tonnes of ash a year that needs to be driven elsewhere for further processing.

That’s the equivalent weight of 17 double decker buses worth of ash a day.

haz waste10,000 tonnes of this ash is considered hazardous waste and this has to be disposed of in specialist landfill sites.

That’s about 3 skip loads of extremely toxic ash a day being driven through our streets.

Fly ash from the South London Incinerator will likely be going 285km away to Wingmoor Farm in Gloucestershire where the local residents get to inhale this very toxic waste.

For a more in depth look at lorry movements please see this post.

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Waste incineration is proven to be a disincentive to waste reduction and recycling.

Viridor are tying us in to a fixed base load contract that guarantees them 200,000 tonnes of rubbish every year for the next 25 years.

The in vessel composting that safely deals with 40% of the partnership boroughs recyclable waste will be demolished to make way for the South London Incinerator.

Viridor make their money from processing rubbish.  They don’t want there to be less of it.

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There are no safe levels of pollution.  There are no safe incinerators.

It simply isn’t possible to stop all of the dangerous emissions from coming out, which is why they had to increase the heights of the two chimneys from 85 metres to 95 metres (311 ft). (1)

This was done because the South London Incinerator is being built in an air quality management area where the pollution in the surrounding area is already too high. The taller chimneys are meant to spread the emissions further away – wherever the wind blows.

The incinerator is allowed to exceed emission limits for up to four hours at a time before it is shut down. (2)

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

In fact, it is expected that problems will occur and emission limits will be breached “particularly during the commissioning phase” (3).

“From time to time, any industrial facility is likely to experience a process malfunction, which could result in an increase in emissions.” (4)

And how long are they permitted to keep operating for if there is a malfunction or breakdown of the abatement equipment? (5)

72 hours. That’s three days of pumping out completely unfiltered and highly toxic emissions.

Even if you believe that the incinerator, when operating normally, is completely safe; there is plenty of opportunity for it to continue operating even when it is not.

The company running the incinerator (Viridor) are the ones who monitor the emissions and they only have to report the results once a year. (6)

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

The South London Incinerator is allowed to break the CO2 targets set by the London Mayor without any action being taken.


(1) 6.70 pg 70


(2) pg 2 bottom of para 4: “The Environment Agency representative explained that if monitoring showed that emissions levels exceeded the values in the European Union Waste Incineration Directive the operator of the facility would have to rectify the matter within four hours or close the facility.”


(3) A12 Pg 10: “As with any new industrial scale facility, some issues with the process may be expected to occur, particularly during the commissioning phase.”

(4) A32 Pg13: “From time to time, any industrial facility is likely to experience a process malfunction, which could result in an increase in emissions. From time to time, any industrial facility is likely to experience a process malfunction, which could result in an increase in emissions. For waste incineration facilities, the WID/IED sets out specific limits on emissions during process breakdowns. Articles 14, 37, 46 and 47 of the Industrial Emissions Directive contain specific requirements regarding limits on operations under process malfunction conditions.”


(5) Article 37  Malfunction or breakdown of the abatement equipment

MemberStates shall ensure that provision is made in the permits for procedures relating to malfunction or breakdown of the abatement equipment.

In the case of a breakdown, the competent authority shall require the operator to reduce or close down operations if a return to normal operations is not achieved within24 hours, or to oper­ate the plant using low polluting fuels.

The operator shall notify the competent authority within 48 hours after the malfunction or breakdown of the abatement equipment.

(6) Article 14 D

An obligation to supply the competent authority regularly, and at least annually, with:

(i) information on the basis of results of emission monitor­ing…


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Beddington Farmlands


Beddington Farmlands is being developed into a 400 acre nature reserve within the coreland (over 1000 acres) of the wider Wandle Valley Regional Park. The Nature Reserve and the Regional Park is the single most important part of the green infrastructure within South London and has the potential to enhance the lives of millions of Londoners by providing an opportunity to connect people to nature through bird and nature watching, photography, walking, running, fitness and cycling, education, other multi-functional ways and also for employment.

The South London Nature Reserve at Beddington Farmlands can address the serious issue of ‘nature deficiency disorder’ (which is probably even more serious in the challenging social environments of South London) and in doing so enhancing the lives of the 1.6 million children and people of the immediate surrounding area.

Educating city folk in the importance of nature being an essential part of a healthy human environment is so important anywhere and possibly even more so in London-a city whose people and ideas influences the whole world. Beddington Farmlands is set to become one of the largest urban nature reserves of any city- a flagship to people and nature coexisting.

View looking north over Beddington Farmlands towards central London

The WWT London Wetland Centre at Barnes- Beddington Farmlands is 4 times the size of the London Wetland Centre and was the joint lead contender for the main London Wetland Centre. Barnes was chosen due to it’s more central location and also because Beddington Farmlands was already being developed as a reserve as part of planning conditions by Viridor.

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There are so many ways that people can connect to nature in a modern urban nature reserve. The WWT London Wetland Centre is not only a major educational resource, a major resource for professional and amateur naturalists and a significant employer but is also used for weddings, conferences for city businesses. by mums groups, fitness groups, by families etc etc etc.

Public engagement at Beddington Farmlands has already started ahead of managed public access in the coming years ahead.

 Bird and Nature Watching at Beddington Farmlands
 Aspiring young naturalists at ‘the farm’

Employment- habitat creation in the Southern lake. Employment opportunities are significant: habitat creation, reserve maintenance, visitor facility construction and management and visitor facilities- activities, restaurant provisions,educational facilities, conference facilities etc etc etc.

For health: Walking, running and cycling and connecting with open spaces and nature.

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Work is currently under way to complete a full species inventory of all biodiversity at Beddington Farmlands.

So far over 300 species of plant (not including the many fungi and lichens also present), 9 species of bats, 256 species of birds, 476 species of moth, 29 species of butterfly , 46 species of bugs, over 300 species of beetle, 358 species of flies, 99 species of bees, wasps and ants and many more grasshoppers, earwings, lacwings, caddis flies and spiders.  Despite these numbers we have only scratched the surface and many many more species await discovery.

 A healthy population of Red Foxes are on site
 A Common Lizard population has been recently discovered

A Red Underwing Moth. 476 species of moth have been recorded including possibly the only breeding population of the Dewick’s Plusia. Over 60 species occurring are of national conservation concern/interest.

 Elephant Hawk Moth- up to 12 were caught in one trap in August 2013
 Broad-bodied Chaser- one of several species of dragonfly which thrive on site
Red Admiral- one of 25 regularly occurring butterfly species including Purple Hairstreak and Marbled White.

A hoverfly- Flies are an often un-appreciated important pollinators (much more important than bees). Over 350 species have been recorded at Beddington Farmlands including 41 species of conservation concern. One of those species, Litophasia hyalipennis was discovered which was previously considered extinct from the planet!

The South London Incinerator proposal includes the over-riding of Metropolitan Open Land (equivalent to Green Belt in an urban area) status, over-riding of SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) status and over-riding of planning condiitons to restore the proposed Incinerator site to Biodiversity Action Plan Habitat. A chilling precedent will be set which could threaten the whole protected network of conservation habitat not only locally but the whole of the UK.
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Beddington Farmlands is home to important and rare populations of birds. An incredible 256 species of bird have been recorded on the site with over 150 species recorded each year.

Over 40 Red Data List (of highest most conservation concern) have been recorded with several species actually breeding on site: Northern Lapwing, Common Cuckoo, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Song Thrush, House and Tree Sparrow and historically Marsh Warbler. Nationally scarce visitors have also bred on site including Bluethroat, Spotted Crake and Little Bittern.

The site is also a very important migration stop over and re-fuelling location and very rare birds are frequently recorded sometimes attracting twitchers from all over the country. Some of the most rare birds recorded include Glaucous-winged Gull from Alaska, Killdeer from North America, Pacific Golden Plover from Siberia and other vagrants from the Mediterranean, the Arctic and the Near East.

Tree Sparrow- traditionally the site has been one of the UK’s strongholds for this species but unfortunately numbers have recently crashed ahead of arrangements to build the Incinerator.

Northern Lapwing- over 20 pairs breed in good years. An exceptional number of pairs for this iconic farmlands bird thriving in the heart of an urban environment.

Curlew Sandpiper- one of many migrant wader species that re-fuel on their journey between the breeding grounds in the High Arctic and the wintering grounds further South (as far as Sub-Saharan Africa).

A traditional winter visitor to the site which has been lost due to over-intensive land use. As the nature reserve develops over the coming years it is hoped that this magnificent bird graces the grasslands of Beddington Farmlands once again. (photo by Roger Browne)

Northern Wheatear- one of many migrant passerine species which utilise Beddington Farmlands as part of their life cycle. Stop-over sites are so important for conservation as they provide the link between the breeding and wintering areas.

Kestrel- one of up to 50 breeding (territory holding) species on site. Common Kestrel is listed as Amber- which is of medium conservation concern.

Cetti’s Warbler- being ringed as part of the on going migration studies at Beddington Farmlands. Understanding migration behaviour of individual species is essential in species conservation.

Permission has been granted by the local authority and endorsed by the London Mayor and Central Government to build an incinerator on Beddington Farmlands despite the applicants breach of previous planning conditions (to deliver a BAP habitat specific nature reserve as part of a Regional Park by 2015 to 2023), inadequate mitigation measures, loss of important Wet Grassland habitat and loss of Metropolitan Open Land.

Judicial Review Proceedings have been commenced to bring the matter to court in order for the case to be reviewed and to question why the local authority, the Mayor and Central Government are allowing the damaging of the South London Nature Reserve and in doing so are compromising the opportunity for South London to host a premier urban nature reserve- a flagship for people and nature co-existing .

Other campaigners are also highlighting the health risks related to mass bulk incineration and favour a decentralised approach to dealing with waste with an emphasis on recycling and reuse- which sounds sensible too.

If you would like to join the Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve mailing list for information on up coming walks and events, bird and wildlife news and how you can help with the reserve development than please email me:  littleoakgroup@btinternet.com
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