No, not disco inferno, but certainly a hellish scenario.
The fact that we’re running out of landfill space in Wales should come as no surprise to any of us. For years we’ve been spending too much, often on credit, buying useless junk that until recently would have ended up being tossed in the black bag – out of sight, out of mind.
Things have improved a lot in Wales. In 2001, we recycled (and composted) 7% of waste and by September 2011 we were recycling 46% (45% for the Vale of Glamorgan). But that means that 55% of our waste is still ending up in our black bags. Residents of Penarth, we should be ashamed of ourselves!
Hence the Vale of Glamorgan Council is one of five local authorities in south Wales that have teamed up to finance and operate ‘Prosiect Gwyrdd‘ – a project to find a long-term solution to the problem of our waste mountain. The project is ‘technology neutral’, and apparently considered all the bids on their merits. But when the shortlist of four was unveiled in December 2010, the only options under consideration were incinerators.
I’m no fan of landfill, but it seems to me that there must be better options for dealing with our waste than chucking it into a furnace. Burning loads of plastic and nappies and dog mess isn’t going to make Wales smell any better, and it’s probably not going to be a great homeopathic remedy for Uncle Gwyn’s emphysema.
But as it turns out, there IS a better option. Just across the Severn there’s a Mechanical Biological Treatment plant that’s alive and kicking, and delivering surprisingly good results. Ok, so they’re still burning plastic film (10% of the waste), and about 20% of it ends up in landfill. But there are all sorts of interesting products, including a ‘compost-like output’, ‘refuse derived fuel’ and lots more recycling. What’s more, this project has been delivered on a 9 year contract.
Whoa! Did someone say 9 years?
So why is it that Prosiect Gwyrdd is looking at a 25 year contract? (for those who are interested, it’s tucked away in points 7.9.1 and 10.5.1 of this document). 25 years ago the word recycle didn’t even exist! What do the far-sighted officials at Prosiect Gwyrdd imagine we’ll be doing with our waste in 25 years’ time? Still chucking 55% of it in the trusty black liner? And if this incinerator proposal is anything like some of the others, there’s likely to be a guarantee from the local authorities that we’ll send no less than a certain tonnage of waste to the bonfire of the vanities (a ‘fresh air’ clause) that could see the residents of Penarth paying for an incinerator to sit idle, just like the long-suffering taxpayers of Stoke-on-Trent. That doesn’t sound like value-for-money to me. Where’s the political oversight of these asinine decisions?
Prosiect Gwyrdd came into existence in 2006. All five local authorities wished it into being. And decisions backing the project have been taken time and time again at the Vale of Glamorgan council (Scrutiny 17 July 2007, Cabinet 25 July 2007, Cabinet 17 December 2008, Scrutiny 27 May 2009, Cabinet 3 June 2009 and Full Council 30 June 2009). This means that it’s a political decision that can be reversed.
So let’s have a look at every Penarth councillor who’s been backing an incinerator for south Wales so we know who not to vote for in May.
Ex- Penarth councillor Nigel Gibbs (Cornerswell, Labour) and current councillors Janice Birch (Stanwell, Labour), Paul Church (St Augustine’s, Conservative), Anthony Ernest (Sully, Conservative), John Fraser (Cornerswell, Conservative), Maureen Kelly-Owen (Plymouth, Conservative), Colin Osborne (Llandough, Conservative), Sarah Sharpe (Sully, Conservative), Dorothy Turner (Cornerswell, Conservative), Clive Williams (Plymouth, Conservative), Sophie Williams (St Augustine’s, Conservative) and Mark Wilson (Stanwell, Labour) make up the sorry contingent. Sadly, as you will probably have worked out, this is in fact the full roll-call of Penarth councillors (including Sully and Llandough).
I’m starting to get an idea now for a very interesting post in April. It’s going to look at all the candidates desperate to serve the residents of Penarth ‘year round, not just at election time’ and give jolly good reasons why certain ones shouldn’t be sent back to Barry Docks. And for those of you who’ve been gaily sending us down the waste road to perdition, you can be fairly certain you’re not on my Christmas card list.
By the way, if you can document an error in my analysis of the situation then please let me know: penartharbyd[at]gmail.com]. I will happily correct any errors.