Environmental Campaigner Fiona Sinclair writes.
As someone who fought a campaign against one of Scotland's 2 merchant incinerators and who lived as a teenager within a 5 mile radius of the other, and having gleaned a wealth of informationabout the effects of environmental toxins down the years, I may be one of the best placed people to comment on the planning approval for a 300,000 tpa incinerator at Greengairs in North Lanarkshire.
Given that my own campaign was successful in stopping the incinerator, inspite of retrospective planning permission having been granted centrally by the Scottish Office, there is still hope that the Greengairs incinerator can be stopped in its tracks.
I am sure that there are rather a lot of people who are breathing a sigh of relief that such an incinerator is not going to be in their back yard. The illogicality of that position, given the known pollution fallout from incinerators, has to be challenged, as indeed should the decision by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment not to call in this permission, on the basis that it is not of national importance. (A golf resort in Aberdeenshire is of national importance, but not a major additional source of environmental toxins.)
The Greengairs campaigners say that the whole `development`, including the incinerator, is contrary to the Structure and draft Local Plans, but because of changes to planning legislation since April, is not being called in. The draft Local Plan was not part of the councillors' consideration, even though the campaigners had spent a great deal of time and effort in their contribution to this. Councillors used the previous plan of 1991 instead. Of course, this fails to take CO2 emissions, let alone anything else, into account. Local campaigners also point out that, if all the council's proposals are implented, Greengairs will be dealing with 1 million tpa of waste per annum. As such, the proposals are clearly of national significance and importance. From experience elsewhere, incineration acts as a disincentive to recycling, re-use or, indeed, to clean production. Therefore, unless the Lanarkshire councils plan to abandon the targets they are set for recycling, they are going to have to import waste from outwith Lanarkshire on a far bigger scale than they are doing at present. Given the economic downturn, it is more likely that such importation will include waste from outwith Scotland. How much of a PR disaster will that be to a naionalist government?.
The Women's Environmental Network, FOE Scotland, Greenpeace, WWF Scotland and the Scottish Green Party should all be asked to add their voices to a call for this planning application to be called in, on the basis that, at 300,000tpa (tonnes per annum), it is clearly both a major additional source of environmental toxins and carbon dioxide and incompatible with a purported`zero waste policy` which seeks to minimise waste and maximise recycling and re-use of resources. Quite how a reduction of 42% in CO2 is to be achieved by 2020 without including transport or incineration in this strategy, beats me. I can only assume that this represents a further entrenchment within the permanent North British government, even to the extent of denying that incinerators emit CO2, pretty much along the same lines of the expressed attitude of waste disposal companies that incineration is a liability-free method of waste disposal.
When I was campaigning on this issue during the late 80s and early 90s, there was no internet, and therefore no cheap or easy way to access information or to lobby. Even more importantly, there was little research on the health effects of incineration and of the environmental toxins that this processcreates. Indeed, Greenpeace specifically warned community campaigners against campaigning on health grounds because of this. Nearly 20 years later, there is plenty of research and scientific consensus on the health effects ofincineration, in spite of what SEPA officials may claim. The early research pointed to cancer as a suspected health effect - concerns are now more focussed on the longer term effects on children and more recent research isproviding evidence of neurological effects. There has been an explosion in the incidence of neurological disorders, and there are established links between these and environmental toxins..
The fact that much research cannot prove causality for specific toxins as regards human health is neither here nor there - we don't live under laboratory conditions. When there has been a 30 year assault on independently funded scientific research within the UK, it's no wonder that it has taken so long to establish a body of research providing clear links between ill health and environmental toxins. Indeed, most of the research is international, not domestic. It is government's job to apply the Precautionary Principle, not to play pass the parcel between suspect pollutants and polluters when it comes to accountability.
No-one can say that this is not a national issue, for the aforestated reasons, and because there are more incinerators planned in Scotland and elsewhere inthe UK. The Scottish Government should dispose of the toxic chalice of incineration and implement a geniune zero waste policy.
Fiona Sinclair undertook all the Scottish research for `Waste Not, Want Not`, by Robert Allen, published in 1992 by Earthscan. This book collated theaccounts of community campaigns throughout the UK against proposals for toxicwaste incinerators and dumps. See Comments section for some useful links