Saturday, 23 October 2010

Thoughts from the Inner East

On Thursday 21 October 2010 at 6.00pm at the Civic Hall the Inner East Area Committee was given a presentation by the Waste Management firm Biffa regarding their proposed INCINERATOR at the Skelton Grange Power Station Site. The presentation was, as always, very slick and this time interestingly contained the news that they now also planning to include a 200,000 tonne Anaerobic Digestion Plant on the same site.

At one time there where more people from the NO2Incinerator campaign than councillors present despite the time of the meeting making it almost impossible for most to people to attend.

Biffa again trotted out the DEFRA report in support of incineration without mentioning the peer review of this report which was carried out by the Royal Society and states that the first Defra report's conclusions alone should NOT be used to inform public policy on this matter despite the authors of the report saying it should be used for that purpose, both the council and Biffa have ignored this prestigious report from a highly respected scientific body.

They also attempted to prove that having an incinerator on this site would mean less traffic movements in the area than having warehousing, which is what the other half of the site is reserved for, but again this is all smoke and mirrors. They have decided how many vehicles there will be from warehouses that do not exist so yes, they can pluck any number out of the air, how can anyone know how many vehicles will be coming and going from these non-existent buildings - it is all pie in the sky but if you don't look too close it sounds good.

Biffa assert that their plant will be able to process half of all the commercial and industrial waste that the city produces so who will deal with the rest of it - is there another incinerator company out there watching and waiting their chance?

The committee noted the presentation. Everything is on hold at the moment until the planning application is submitted, which is going to be very soon, and when those who oppose this technology in general and this scheme in particular will have a chance to make their voices heard in the planning arena.

In a different but not unrelated item Yorkshire Water has used science to avoid incinerating human effluent and pouring the gases produced into the atmosphere. The will now use this waste to meet their own energy needs making a huge saving of the money and allows the human waste that is left after the whole process to be used as topsoil, they are aiming to be almost energy self sufficient by 2020.

If anything this article shows that what was once regarded as 'problem waste' needing to be burned has become a much sort after product and very clearly shows the folly of seeing household and commercial waste as a problem and not as a valuable product and thereby locking your thinking and infrastructure into simply burning it as 'rubbish' instead of viewing it as the solution.


  1. Hello, I'd like to read the Royal Society peer review of the DEFRA study, can you post a link?

  2. Sorry I should have put the link in to start with I have now altered the Royal Society link to take you to the document in question the Royal Society reply is Appendix 4, page 407.

  3. I've read the Royal Society letter and it does not seem to say what this blog does. In fact, if you go to the last page of the report you will find a follow up letter, after the report was changed in light of the Royal Society review. It does you no favours to misrepresent things in this way.

  4. Oh, and another thing. What Yorkshire Water are doing with sewage is anaerobic digestion, which Biffa now seem to be proposing! However, AD can only be used for certain waste materials so you still need a method for dealing with what is left over.

  5. I will address the accusation you made that we have delibrately tried to mislead people regarding the content of the Royal Society's review of the data this is, as you must know, untrue. We pointed out that the Royal Society did raise a large number of very serious reservations regarding the weight given to the uncertainties in the original report a significant number of which the letter at the end suggests have been addressed however it also states:

    "Throughout our review we have stressed the need to clarify the uncertainties inherent in the data in this report and consider the
    implications this uncertainty has when evaluating the environmental and health effects of waste management. Although the
    uncertainties have been acknowledged in this report, it is important that anyone using these data takes adequate consideration
    of its inherent uncertainty."

    This does not mean that it accepts that the uncertainties are not there only that they were not given full weight in the first report and that it hopes that they will be now.

    With respect to the AD technology used by Yorkshire Water there was no suggestion that all rubbish or waste could be dealt with in this way. The point of this article was to show that the technology is changing very fast and to state our belief that it will change even more rapidly over the next few years.

    You may hold a different view on this and feel that incineration will be the only technology that will be able to deal with waste in the future - we disagree.

    We, like you, are pleased that Biffa are wanting to build a AD plant to deal with suitable waste but do not feel that this addresses our concern on incineration in any way.

  6. The blog says that the Royal Society "states that its [the report's] conclusions where informed by the contributors being mainly from non-scientific government departments and representatives of the incineration industry and should NOT be used to inform public policy on this matter". I didn't see any comments from the Royal Society about who had done the report at all. That is what I meant by misrepresentation. Whether this is by accident or on purpose I have no idea.

    If you focussed on what the Royal Society actually said rather than implying there is some stitch up going on between government and waste companies then you might have a better chance of persuading others to your point of view.

  7. The report in question said:
    "We recognise that this report is potentially a fundamental piece of work that has important implications for waste policy. The subject matter is complex and is hindered, as the authors recognise, by the lack of good quality studies. It is vital that the issues are addressed properly. The authors of the report suggest that it will be suitable for supporting waste management decisions at both a local and national level. However several omissions in the report (detailed below) mean it offers incomplete guidance to those making policy decisions on waste management strategies and is potentially misleading both for national policy and for local authorities. With regard to local concerns, and in addition to the misgivings detailed below, the report contains little discussion of the effect of emissions under non-standard conditions, which may be different from national averages, but are of vital local concern. Nor does it discuss the effect of local health and environmental sensitivity to the emissions. We therefore recommend that this report should only be used for general information and be read alongside other relevant reports that take a broader life cycle approach, and which include the benefits that the various management options could provide, for example by offsetting emissions from other sources".

    I think you can see that our comments were fair and that we did not imply any stitch-up between the Government and the Waste Industry, it was the Royal Society mentioned the poor quality of available studies, we simply referred to it.

    We think that we can take it as a compliment to the growing success of our campaign that we are now attracting these snide attacks on our integrity from the supporters of incineration.

    You are entitled to your opinion, we are entitled to ours and the people who are concerned with this important issue both in Leeds and across the country will make up their minds too.

  8. Hi, thanks for posting that link, it's useful to read first hand.

    I can't claim to have read the entire thing but it does seem that you've overegged (I wouldn't necessarily say misrepresented) the royal society's criticisms somewhat, especially given the later RS letter acknowledging that many of their original concerns were addressed in revisions by the report's authors.

    The study clearly has its flaws but I think it's an exaggeration to claim it's worthless.

  9. Well talk about misinterpretation! We did not say the study was worthless but we did point out the reservations the Royal Society had regarding it and we have acknowledged above that with the changes that have been made, following the peer review, it is a much more balanced report.

    We are clearly never going to agree on this matter but please do us the justice to admit that we are doing our best to put forward our points without using some of the more extreme arguments which, we admit, have been advanced by some anti-incineration campaigners.

    There is a lot of information out there, by both reputable and not so reputable sources, on both sides of the argument and whilst we do not have the vast amounts of money that Biffa or the Council and their preferred bidders have at their disposal but we do try to keep our points relevant and accurate.

    For those of us who live in this area it is not an abstract concept we are talking about our futures and the future of our city.

  10. But it does clearly show that people are willing and able to twist words to fit what they want things to mean. I think to lock the citizens of leeds into a multi million pound contract for 25 years is wrong. Technology is moving at such a pace it would be incorrect to say this is what is going to happen and thats that. PLus if we do reduce,reuse, recycle, we are going to end up importing waste into Leeds to keep the thing burning and "profitable" not for us but for the PFI company.

  11. (BTW the comment at 23:55 is another 'anonymous')

    You see, sascharabbit is actually making some good points there. Those sort of issues are the heart of the debate.

    I never said that the Royal Society did not have reservations, simply that the blog misrepresented what those reservations were. You have manifestly failed to back up the assertion about the contributors to the DEFRA report. Rather than admit your mistake you choose to attack those who draw attention to it.

    I've only come across this blog from the Guardian Leeds page as John Baron seems to link to it all the time. Having read it now I am concerned that it is more interested in a propaganda battle than a proper debate.

  12. I apologise for mixing you up with the other anonymous – that is the trouble with ‘anonymous’ you don’t know who they are or where they’re coming from.

    With regards to your concerns over the wording of the article I have re-read the item and though I stand by what I said I have changed the wording to reflect your concerns. The original report was full of holes and the Royal Society ‘peer review’ drew attention to this. Many amendments were made to the report, as is acknowledged by the Appendix 4 and which I am happy to acknowledge.

    With reference to the contributors you do have to go through the report page by page to see who has supplied the information on which the report is based and a large amount of it comes from the industry itself, and yes, I do acknowledge that this does not mean it is not true.

    At the end of the day we have no intention to mislead people about the facts on incineration, it certainly isn’t in our interests to do so and there is plenty of reputable scientific opinion out there questioning the need or wisdom of incineration.

    I totally agree with Sacharabbit that the way to go is Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle as much as is humanly possible. Use a carrot and stick approach to get households and businesses to recycle, step up weekly door step collections for more kinds of waste.

    Even then I accept that there will be some waste that cannot be used in this way and that after every imaginable drop of usable product has been extracted it will have to be dealt with but again we do not feel that committing to a 25 year programme of incineration is the way to go, given the remarkable progress there has been in treating waste over the last 10 years – what will we be able to do in the next 10 if we keep on working at it - and if there are clear rewards for succeeding there will be people coming up with ideas.