Burning up the West Coast with a proposed incinerator

Alarmingly, a proposed large waste incinerator in Westport is moving ahead.  This facility would burn 300,000 tonne per annum of waste including medical, industrial, building and municipal wastes including paint, tyres and treated timber that is trucked and shipped in from both the North and South Island.

The company behind the proposal, Renew Energy, intends to shred, bale and wrap in plastic all waste materials before burning. In their progress report of June 2017, the company makes some startling and deeply misleading claims starting with, “this project and its associated model are the only alternatives to landfills.” The progress report is full of the public-relations spin and euphemisms associated with the incinerator business such as “The plant will process most municipal, commercial, industrial waste streams, even the difficult to dispose of problematic wastes in an environmentally clean manner.” One revealing piece of information is their intent to secure 80% of their “feedstock” —their clever word for waste—from 20-year long contracts with Councils.

No formal application under the RMA has yet been made, but company executives briefed members of the Buller District Council in November, 2018 saying that the project was not reliant on government funding for the go-ahead. At present, Buller District Mayor Garry Howard and West Coast economic development manager Kevin Stratful, Mr McGregor have been supportive of the project.

So what’s wrong with incinerators? Here’s just a few of the major issues…

  • Incinerators do not eliminate waste, instead they create different forms of waste: hazardous fly ash and bottom ash. These new forms are far more difficult to deal with than the original, raw wasted materials.
  • Incinerators require input from energy-rich waste meaning that materials that should be recycled and reclaimed are instead being burned
  • Incinerators disincentivise Zero Waste efforts as Councils get locked into long-term contracts to provide waste “feedstock”
  • Despite claims from the industry about the effectiveness of “scrubbers,” air emissions from waste incinerators have been positively identified as a cause of cancer and other health damage in humans because they release toxic materials including heavy metals and dioxins into the air.
  • Emission violations and malfunctions are common even at new, state-of-the-art incinerators due to mechanical and operational problems, and it is “technically remote to achieve even 80% continuous compliance” with air emission regulations
  • Claims that the bottom ash is inert and able to be used as an input for roading and cement block has also proved dangerously false as hazardous levels of dioxins and heavy metals have been found to remain
  • Mixed-waste incinerators are inefficient energy producers, capturing only about 20% of energy generated by the waste

You can read more about what’s wrong with incineration in this excellent New Zealand report Wasted Opportunity: A Closer Look at Landfilling and Incineration. The bullet points above are taken from this report.

The Zero Waste Network will be keeping a close eye on this project over the coming months, and we ask that any Zero Waste organisations that have members on the West Coast to advise them of this issue.