Industrial and Commercial Waste Incineration

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 28th January 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 4:30 pm, 28th January 2020

I absolutely agree. I thank my hon. Friend for her support of the campaigners. The issue obviously affects her constituency, in locations such as Marshfield, Peterstone and elsewhere. I am glad that she will be supporting the campaign and meeting the campaigners and others.

I want to touch on a few more issues before concluding, but I am conscious that others want to speak, and of course we want to hear from the Minister. One of the big arguments that is often made for these plants is, “Well, they’re going to generate combined heat and power and they are going to give all this energy back to the grid.” However, the reality is that, although there are 40 energy-from-waste plants in England, only eight currently operate in combined heat and power mode. In fact, the official CHP list includes the Viridor plant in Splott in my constituency, but, although the plant might be enabled for combined heat and power, it is not currently providing that. Viridor told me that the plant cannot export as much energy to the national grid as it is capable of doing, because of infrastructure issues relating to the feeders—I do not understand the technology behind it—and the technology that would allow it to export to the grid. It is not even being used in that way.

I hate the sort of “jam tomorrow” promises that developers often make—they say, “This facility will contribute to district heating, cheaper bills and provide energy into the grid,” when the ability to do so is not there, and the benefits may not be realised for many years. Such contracts often lock in councils and Administrations for 20 to 25 years. I hope that in 20 to 25 years, we will have made a dramatic transition to a more circular economy and will not be producing the type of waste that needs to be burned or sent to landfill, and yet we are locking ourselves into a model for dealing with waste that is not the worst, but is one of the worst.

Incinerators such as the one planned in my constituency emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than any other fossil fuel source, including coal. As well as the emissions from the traffic coming to and from the site, and potentially other emissions coming out of it—there is a lot of controversy about that—there is also the issue of what happens to the ash. Incineration is not a complete replacement for landfill, because the ash has to go to landfill, potentially in a soluble form. There is much concern about the risk to water courses, lakes and water supplies. Incineration is not some sort of magic panacea that solves all our waste problems. As I said, we need to address the production of waste in the first place. The idea that incinerators such as this are some sort of magic solution is very far from the truth.

What are the alternative ways forward? As I said, I think we need to be looking much more at creating a circular economy and reducing waste in the first place. We need to understand that there is a difference here: we have a landfill tax, but we do not have one on incineration. Where are the incentives to recycle more and produce less waste in the first place? I am aware that the Treasury considered that in 2018 and said that it would be willing to consider an incinerator tax once more infrastructure had been put in place. Will the Minister update us on where the Government are on their thinking on that, particularly given the example that we will need to set this year as we approach the crucial COP conference? What are the Government doing to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be incinerated or go to landfill?

There is a whole bunch of challenging issues here. There is a very clear case against the proposal for my constituency, but it sits within the wider issue of the responsibility for waste and how we deal with it. Obviously, there is a lot that we can do on an individual, personal level. I urge those at the top of businesses that are sending vast amounts of commercial and industrial waste to incinerators to reconsider their business practices.

There is also the uncertainty around Brexit. Some of our waste usually travels via Europe, so perhaps the Minister can update us on how the import and export of waste will be managed after 31 January. I know that one of the cases being made for the incinerator in my patch is that it is thought that trade with the Netherlands is somehow part of the solution. How will that be affected, and will it add further uncertainty?

The negative impact of incinerators cannot be ignored. Burning waste into our atmosphere is simply not the solution to coping with waste. Skyfill does not replace landfill. My message to CoGen and Môr Hafren Bio Power is this: we do not want you in south Cardiff. I hope that the Welsh Government and others will listen to the many people from across the spectrum who oppose the project.