Waste Not Wanted

 

At a cursory glance, it seems "people power" won out in the decision by An Bord Pleanala to reject the proposal to build a large hazardous waste incinerator beside Kilcock in Co Kildare. Closer analysis, however, reveals there were features in this proposal that made a favourable decision for Thermal Waste Management Ltd unlikely, and it was nothing to do with the unique band of opponents - local residents, sheiks, stud farm owners, school children and religious who were joined in opposition to the facility.

While many environmental issues could not be considered by the planning authority as they are the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency, what emerged during the appeal hearing justified many of the concerns about how the site was selected. World Health Organisation guidelines for siting incinerators were not considered while few alternative sites were considered in detail - though a TWM expert told the hearing selection criteria were consistent with accepted international practice.

Equally, there were strong indications that basic issues of scale, zoning, traffic and visual obtrusion could not be easily reconciled with such a large facility where it was planned. The site at Boycetown is close to schools and housing on land not zoned for industry. For the Irish bloodstock industry, it was planned for the heart of land which sustains so many internationally renowned stud farms and contributes handsomely to a £100 million a year industry. As one stud farmer told the hearing, even a suggestion of health effects from the incinerator, whether justified or not, was sufficient to undermine the sector. Yet, it should be acknowledged, TWM had planned environmental controls that could be expected of the world's best-performing incinerators. They proposed a thermal treatment process similar to those being used safely in some of Europe's most progressive economies but adding vitrification; a process which produces material that can be used in construction. It also reduces toxic by-products and the need for landfill.

The decision indicates the process of adequately treating our growing amounts of hazardous waste will be extremely difficult. This case also exposed serious shortcomings in waste management planning. Guidelines on locating incinerators are needed. The Republic seems set to embrace large-scale incineration with six municipal incinerators planned. The temperature is rising as communities seek the kind of guarantees they are entitled to. Extensive siting guidelines are required for starters.

Notwithstanding the environmental efficiency of modern, well-run thermal treatment plants, it is wrong to foist these forms of heavy industry on communities by allowing them to be located close to housing or schools. Siting guidelines, as exist for telecommunications masts, would avoid causing communities undue distress. For their part, generators of waste have to show they are fully embracing alternatives to incineration (and landfilling for that matter) - such as waste minimisation, re-use and recycling - if their campaigns against facilities are to achieve credibility. Blanket opposition to possible solutions will not always hold good.