Green campaigner urges politicians to halt plans for £600m waste incinerator

An impression of what the incinerator could look like. Photograph: NLWA

A green campaigner has urged Islington politicians to pause plans to rebuild a £600m waste incinerator which will burn rubbish thrown away by people in Islington and across north London.

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA), made up of seven councils – Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Waltham Forest – will make a decision on the proposals on 16 December.

The potential rebuild is part of the North London Heat and Power Project.

The incinerator could deal with 700,000 tonnes of waste a year after predictions suggested north London’s waste could reach between 509,000 and 713,000 tonnes by 2050.

The current waste centre in Edmonton was built in 1969 and is nearing the end of its natural life. The new, extended incinerator is expected to run until 2060. Plans also include an education centre and recycling and waste-sorting facilities.

Ben Griffith from Islington Environment Emergency Forum said Islington Council “needs to decide whether it wishes to act over the climate emergency or if it’s going to continue with business as usual on a route that was set years ago”.

He asked members of Islington’s environment and regeneration scrutiny committee this week: “Do we need an incinerator that’s 30 per cent bigger?”

The existing waste facility takes in rubbish from seven boroughs, covering two million people. It also recycles waste from six of the boroughs.

He said waste has been falling over the last decade and pointed out costs for the new faciliity has gone up to an estimated £648m.

Griffith is also staging a council tax strike, along with fellow Islington resident Jill Ellenby. Together they are withholding £10 from their bill.

They said: “We are horrified at the thought of an even bigger waste incinerator and the carbon emissions and pollution that would result.”

They urged councillors in Islington to come out against the plans, adding: “They must take a stand, not sign the contract and instead institute an effective reduce-reuse-recycle circular economy to deal with our waste.”

The incinerator plans were drawn up between 2013 and 2015, and Griffith told the scrutiny committee: “Everything has changed. Costs have shot up, the need for waste disposal has declined, competing incinerators have been developed, the environmental case for energy from waste has fallen away, and Islington and other councils have declared climate emergencies.”

He asked about the running costs if the incinerator is not kept busy, and about surplus capacity.

He added: “There’s no precedent for carbon capture at large waste incinerators and we are being asked to support the incinerator as if carbon capture is part of the deal.”

Martin Capstick, managing director of NLWA, said the new facility would only take waste from north London and would prevent it going into landfill, where it could potentially leak pollutants into the ground.

He said waste generated in north London “would take 30,000 articulated lorries to transport” if taken to landfill.

Projections suggest that London’s population will grow in the next few years, with more people living in flats, where recycling rates can be harder to achieve.

He explained that carbon capture and storage “is a very rapidly developing area”, with the government’s climate change committee describing it as a “good idea” as it aims for carbon capture by 2040 in the waste sector.

Capstick added: “We are working hard to ensure our facility is capable of including carbon capture and storage.

“The site will have the benefit that it will have the space for the infrastructure because, when we demolish the existing facility, that space will be available and we are in conversation with government about involvement in carbon clusters.

“The government announced that energy from waste facilities will be eligible to be involved in future clusters which means we could get future government engagement.”

He said NLWA is talking to companies involved in carbon storage.

“This is a very rapidly evolving situation,” he went on. “It’s akin to developments around heat pumps, which not long ago were a very esoteric development but are now a core part of the government’s net zero plan.”

Cllr Caroline Russell (Green) said: “Burning solid waste doesn’t get rid of it – every tonne of waste that’s incinerated creates 15-40kg of hazardous waste that requires further treatment, and the incinerator raises the issue of airborne emissions which can cover large distances.”

Committee chair Tricia Clarke (Labour) told Capstick: “I don’t hear you talking about phasing out incinerators. If we are serious about global warming, incineration does not fit into the climate emergency.”