Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Xtra Column piece for local Guardian newspapers

I was invited to write the online Xtra Column on an issue covering Sutton/Croydon. Hmmm. Here are 300 words:

What we have witnessed over the last three years is a process where the concerns, fears and demands of the people in Croydon and Sutton, have not been heard - at any stage of South London Waste Plan (SLWP) consultation. Why are the neighbouring councils of Croydon and Sutton behaving in this manner? The answer is money.

This year the tax on sending biodegradable waste to landfill is £56 per tonne. Over the next three years it will rise by £8 per tonne per year. When you consider councils send hundreds and thousands of tonnes of waste to landfill each year, the projected costs could even result in an increase in council tax, potentially resulting in the lead group on the council (Lib Dems in Sutton and Conservatives in Croydon) losing power.

Running concurrently with the SLWP consultation is a procurement contract to manage the waste. The winning waste contractor will present a planning application that meets the criteria of the SLWP - whilst maximising their bottom line - and the most profitable way to dispose of the waste is incineration.

Fortunately for the waste contractor, ‘incineration’ appears on the procurement contract. However, given the public perception of an incinerator is a wholly negative one – and rightly so – the South London Waste Plan uses the euphemism, “Modern thermal treatment including Pyrolysis and Gasification.” These “thermal treatments” use high temperatures to break down the waste and can produce energy in the form of heat and power. Yes, they are not the same as the traditional mass burn incinerators but they are still unproven technologies.

Unsurprisingly, both the Conservative opposition in Sutton and the Labour opposition in Croydon are campaigning against such an incinerator, which for them is manna from heaven. Yet, if the boot were on the other foot, and they held power, they too would build an incinerator. Why? Well, because of the landfill tax bill coupled with the complete absence of a guiding principle that prioritises, social, ethical and environmental best practice.

The solution is quite simply to price out incineration as the alternative to landfill. One such way is to introduce an incineration tax of around £45 per tonne of waste. This will leave councils with a greater incentive to recycle and compost as much as possible, rather than allowing recycling to stagnate, which will happen, as there will be a need to provide continued waste to feed the “thermal treatment” plant.

By Shasha Khan

Leader, Croydon Green Party


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