Link to this page: https://archive.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/519/3740
Incinerators: Our health at risk!
Seven boroughs are proposing a new plan for rubbish disposal in north London. Different sites are being looked at to build new waste facilities. Most of them are along the Lea Valley, half in the borough of Waltham Forest. As well as recycling facilities, the sites are likely to include an incinerator.
There is already one incinerator in north London, in Edmonton. In 2002, after a campaign by Greenpeace, the government turned down a plan to massively extend it. So why is it safe to have an extra incinerator now?
The government also recently gave the green light to a new super-incinerator in Belvedere, south-east London, to be the biggest in Europe. A year ago there were 12 incinerators in the country. Now there are 19 and an additional 22 planning applications are in process. Because of the pressure on landfill and the need to reduce carbon emissions, the government is championing incinerators. They call it "energy from waste", because burning rubbish can be used to generate electricity.
What we do with rubbish is a serious problem. But we should unequivocally reject incinerators. The rush to incinerate is a dangerous, short-cut solution, which puts profit before health and reduces the chance of developing real alternatives.
Incinerators have been shown to pollute over a 15-mile area. Hundreds of baby deaths a year are linked to pollution emitted by them and studies have shown higher rates of adult and childhood cancer and birth defects. They have safety measures in place to avoid accidents, but these ignore the effect of airborne chemicals, which can cause illnesses over a long period of time. Additionally, incinerators reduce waste to ash, which is toxic and easily windborne.
- Fine particulates, which can increase death rates from all causes, including heart disease and lung cancer.
- Toxic metals, which accumulate in the body and are implicated in a range of problems in children, including autism and attention deficit disorder.
- Cancer-causing chemicals.
The majority of incinerators are sited in poor areas. The Belvedere incinerator will see working-class areas polluted by burning rubbish from rich areas such as Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea.
They do not solve the problem of landfill. The ash produced is still 30-50% of the original waste volume and is buried in landfill sites. They release lots of carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. They also discourage recycling and waste reduction because they require a minimum amount of rubbish to operate.
Invest in alternatives
The main aim should be to re-use and recycle. In north London only 23% of waste is currently recycled. Investment is needed into environmentally-friendly systems that can deal with remaining waste without incineration. 94% of public waste could be dealt with by methods other than incineration, such as anaerobic digestion. The remaining 6% is safer sent to controlled landfill than being burnt.
Instead of being fully funded public services under democratic control, waste plants are run by private companies that exist for only one reason: profit. They have no interest in long-term research and investment into safe and environmentally acceptable alternatives, just short-term solutions that provide a quick profit.
How can we trust them to put proper safety measures in place? Look at the appalling safety record of the privatised railways. London Waste Ltd, the company that owns the Edmonton incinerator, was fined in 1998 for "burning clinical waste of types not permitted". Altogether they were guilty of 19 separate charges.
And we will probably have to pay through the nose to be poisoned. Costs of other projects have rocketed. In Newhaven, Sussex, the costs of one incinerator site have doubled to £145.7 million just to prepare the site. The tax-payer is underwriting the costs, while the private company, Veolia, will reap the profits.
Councils have the legal right to take waste disposal back in-house; we must campaign for this.
A huge amount of waste is completely unnecessary. The profit system produces masses of unneeded packaging and advertising. Competition between companies leads to enormous waste in duplicated processes.
Many goods are deliberately made with built-in obsolescence. The technology exists that would allow them to last for many years, but they are deliberately designed to wear out in a short time so that we are forced to buy them again.
So as well as fighting for a safe method of waste disposal, we also need a socialist society which can massively reduce waste.
In north London we are being 'consulted'. In just six weeks, with one 'workshop' in each borough, we are allegedly being consulted about something which could threaten the health and even the lives of babies, children and adults in our boroughs.
Socialist Party members in Walthamstow, Leyton, Hackney and Camden are attending these consultations. But the vast majority of residents know nothing about the plans. This process will be like so many others, where a sham consultation is used as a cover for decisions made behind closed doors.
Campaigning can work. In May 1998, in Killamarsh in Yorkshire, two toxic clouds escaped from SARP UK industrial plant and spread over the village.
Local residents and Socialist Party members set up a campaign: Residents Against SARP Pollution (RASP). As well as launching an inquiry, RASP organised marches, a roof-top protest, and even a trip to France to protest at the parent company headquarters. They were victorious, managing to shut down almost the entire SARP plant.
In north London, we have started campaigning and have met other people who want to fight with us. The north London plans will take two years to be implemented. But it is important that we campaign now, right at the start, for a bottom line of no new incinerators.
We stand for:
- Health before profit. Bring waste disposal into public democratic control.
- No new incinerators. Phase out existing incinerators.
- A waste plan based on re-use, recycling, and investment into alternative systems.
- A socialist plan of production to meet people's needs and safeguard the environment, including ending the problems of excessive packaging, built-in obsolescence and un-recycled waste.
In The Socialist 6 February 2008:
War and terrorism
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party news and analysis
Young workers and Students
Environment and socialism
Socialist Party debate
International socialist news and analysis