Sunday, 27 August 2017

Will the size of the St Dennis incinerator undermine recycling efforts?

Cornwall Council’s “waste and recycling, street and beach cleansing” contract comes to an end in March 2020.

Work has already started on the options for the next contract, and the Council’s cabinet member (environment and public protection) has spoken about the need to protect the environment by “reducing waste and increasing recycling rates.”

I certainly agree that it is ridiculous that, across the UK, thousands and thousands of tonnes of recyclable and bio-degradable material is dumped in landfill or incinerated, when much better use could be made of such resources.

It is all summed up extremely in the “Wealth from Waste” report which was published a few years ago by the Local Government Association. This stated: “The simple fact is that taxpayers would be better off, the economy will benefit, and more people will have jobs if we grow the domestic market for collecting, sorting and reprocessing recycling … recycling actually brings in cash for the taxpayer and we owe it to today’s hard-pressed taxpayers to get as much of their money back as possible.”

But in this regard, Cornwall has a long way to go. We only recycle 36 per cent of our local waste, and our performance is significantly behind many other parts of the United Kingdom.

Just look how we compare with Wales. It has just been confirmed by the Welsh Government that they have achieved an ambitious recycling target of 64% – some three years ahead of schedule. One county, Ceredigion, even managed a rate of 70% – the proposed Welsh target for 2025.

But here in Cornwall, there is a complication. The unitary authority is tied into a multi-million-pound “integrated waste” disposal contract, structured around the controversial incinerator near St Dennis, which has just become operational.

It is well documented that I was an outspoken opponent of the incinerator and, in particular, the size of the plant.

Designed to principally deal with Cornwall’s domestic waste, it has an annual capacity of 240,000 tonnes. But each year, we generate about 170,000 tonnes of residual waste (from kerbside collections and household waste recycling centres) – significantly less than the capacity of the incinerator – and that is after we have recycling just over a third of our waste.

The reality is that if we were to meet the government’s 2020 recycling target of 50%, the amount of residual waste would be much reduced and the void within the incinerator – to be filled with commercial waste, possibly from outside of Cornwall – would be even greater.

It just seems to me that, in the minds of many people, the need to fill the over-sized incinerator in Mid Cornwall with waste could undermine or stifle efforts to boost recycling.

[This will be my article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian].

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