EXCLUSIVE - by Doug Collie
Scottish Borders Council would be wise to steer clear of all forms of incineration when members and officials ‘return to the drawing board’ to rethink their integrated waste strategy in the wake of the recent Easter Langlee debacle, according to a network of environmental campaigners.
The attempt to develop a so-called gasification and pyrolysis plant at Galashiels to deal with 25,000 tonnes of Borders rubbish each year ended in a dismal and embarrassing failure last month when it became clear neither the technology nor the funding was in place to deliver the project.
As a result SBC and their chosen developers New Earth Solutions Group agreed to abandon a 24-year contract after only four years and at a cost of at least £2 million to Borders taxpayers. Now the local authority will have to carry out a complete rethink of its waste disposal policies if it is to comply with national and European targets.
In a hard hitting interview with our ‘Not Just Sheep and Rugby’ staff, office bearers from the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) told us: “This supposedly advanced and state of the art project ended up proving itself to have been obsolete before it was ever even built because it failed to treat waste as a series of separate waste streams that could individually be reduced, re-used, recycled or composted.”
UKWIN national coordinator Shlomo Dowen said: “We are glad that the council took the time to re-evaluate this project in light of changing circumstances, and hope that other local authorities across the UK will do likewise for their own outdated incineration arrangements.”
We asked if SBC should have been aware of the technological problems associated with gasification before signing the New Earth contract in April 2011, and whether the council had been sold a ‘pig in a poke’ given the technology was unproven.
Mr Dowen replied: “The council was probably aware that this sort of technology was risky, but might not have appreciated the true extent of that risk. Councils are often expected to make decisions about complex proposals without much in-house expertise and are therefore very reliant on outside consultants who might have little incentive to place the long-term interests of sustainable waste management at the heart of their advice.
“It is not uncommon for local authorities to regret entering into long-term incineration contracts, for example because the contracts prove inflexible, overestimate the need for waste disposal capacity, and/or underestimate the need for capacity higher up in the waste hierarchy.”
UKWIN explained that while it was not privy to the technical report considered by councillors, as it was withheld on the basis of commercial confidentiality, it appeared that one of the issues which led to the contract being ended was that New Earth was unable to convince the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that the technology would actually work.
Mr Dowen claimed: “Various forms of so-called advanced thermal treatment technology (ATT) have been attempted for waste management, and they have all faced difficulties, so it is not surprising there are concerns that the technology would not have performed as advertised.
“UKWIN published a briefing paper advising caution regarding gasification and pyrolysis back in 2010, so issues with ATT are not new”.
Asked what UKWIN’s advice would be as SBC returns to square one to formulate an amended strategy, Mr Dowen said: “They should avoid paying for new incineration capacity and ensure they are not overly committed to residual waste infrastructure. They should minimise waste arisings, for example through education and re-use schemes. And they should maximise recycling and composting.”
Tim Hill, UKWIN’s technical advisor, commented: “The council needs to look to maximise recycling revenues by working with the recycling industry. In particular they should maximise the collection of aluminium cans; maximise the collection of plastics with minimal contamination and ensure that high quality plastics are segregated by type. This may involve some investment.”