Edmonton incinerator blockaded by protesters

Campaigners are ramping up their protests ahead of a key decision meeting this week, reports James Cracknell

Protesters blockade the Edmonton incinerator on Monday 13th December (credit Extinction Rebellion)
Protesters blockade the Edmonton incinerator on Monday 13th December (credit Extinction Rebellion)

Protesters opposing a rebuild of the Edmonton incinerator have staged a blockade today (Monday 13th) directly outside the existing waste-burning facility.

Around 25 local campaigners – from groups including Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter and Stop the Edmonton Incinerator – blocked access at Edmonton Eco Park in protest over plans to build a new incinerator with a larger capacity for burning waste from seven North London boroughs.

They prevented lorries carrying waste from entering the site to burn it, as well as blocking access to construction vehicles working on preparatory at the site in Advent Way, Edmonton.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said that officers were called to Edmonton Eco Park shortly after 6am on Monday and that two people have been arrested “on suspicion of aggravated trespass”. They added: “Officers remain at the scene and a policing plan is in place.”

It marks an escalation of the ongoing campaign to ‘pause and review‘ the incinerator plans, with North London Waste Authority due this week to appoint a contractor for the North London Heat and Power Project, the official name of the new incinerator development, which also includes new recycling facilities.

Several anti-incinerator protests have been held in the last few months, across several different boroughs, including three in Enfield in the last week alone. There have also been legal challenges, letter-writing campaigns and a council tax strike.

Their concerns surround the environmental impact of the incinerator, which the campaigners say could emit 700,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, and the impact of air pollution on people’s health, with thousands of people living within a mile of the site.

Sarah Eastwood, a spokesperson for the campaigners, said: “We are here to tell our councils and the NLWA that we will not accept this incinerator. It is bad for the planet and bad for our communities – local people deserve better.

“We won’t stop campaigning until our elected representatives pause to get an independent review of the plans, and conduct a genuine, inclusive and democratic local consultation.”

The incinerator rebuild is opposed by a number of local politicians, including Edmonton MP Kate Osamor, Chingford MP Iain Duncan Smith and Islington North MP Jeremy Corybn. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is also opposed to “new incineration capacity in London” in light of the climate emergency.

NLWA argues that the existing plant – opened in 1969 – is reaching the end of its life and needs replacing, with incineration considered a better environmental option than dumping waste as landfill. But campaigners argue that the proposed incinerator, which would be a third larger than the current facility, is far bigger than it needs to be given North London’s drive to boost recycling, and that alternative, more sustainable options have not been fully considered.

Spanish-based multinational firm Acciona is the only company currently bidding to win the contract to build the incinerator, after other potential contractors dropped out. Speaking at the Cop26 conference in Glasgow in November, the boss of Acciona described the project as “massively oversized” but said this was “beyond our control”.

The spokesperson for the campaigners added: “We also want to send a message to Acciona: we won’t sit back and let you make money at the expense of our community.

“We see you promoting your sustainable credentials internationally, this is unacceptable greenwashing in the face of this ecocide and environmental racism. You’ve said yourselves that this plant is too big and bad for London, and that you would not get away with building this plant in Spain.”

Update (3pm):

In a statement, NLWA chair Clyde Loakes said: “Today’s protests highlight the very problem that NLWA is tasked with tackling: how to deal with the results of never-ending, unsustainable consumption. Every minute, every hour of every day, Londoners are cramming their bins to the brim. By 10am today, hundreds of tonnes of waste had already been collected from North Londoners’ homes by thousands of our colleagues.

“Our staff, who are essential workers, are now having to divert their focus from dealing with this black-bin-bag, contaminated waste in the most hygienic and environmentally-responsible way possible, to handling logistics to safely divert all this rubbish to alternative locations. This will greatly increase lorry movements on borough roads, causing unnecessary environmental impact.

“Sadly, what the protesters might not realise is that much of this waste will need to be sent to landfill where it will rot. This is the worst possible outcome because waste in landfill releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, which has a warming impact up to 34 times greater than CO2.

“It’s ironic too that this action is impacting the construction of the state-of-the-art recycling facilities now happening on site, that we in North London so desperately need, if we are to achieve recycling levels of 50% plus.

“NLWA has frequently pointed out that [it] is only with systemic change implemented by government and business that we can stop the trashing of precious resources.

“We are urging the government to make recycling compulsory, to ban many more un-ecological products such as single-use, unrecyclable plastics, and to massively reduce the dumping of waste in landfill, among a raft of measures.

“In terms of our existing energy from waste plant, it is over 50 years old and has reached the end of its operational life. It is our duty to protect public health from unhygienic waste, so we are building a new facility with the highest possible environmental standards to deal with black bin bags and using the energy generated to provide low carbon heat/power for 127,000 homes.

“The new facility will be among the most advanced in the world and use selective catalytic reduction technology to convert the nitrogen oxide created by incinerating the waste to create energy, into water and nitrogen (which is a harmless gas that makes up 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere).

“It will also save the equivalent of 215,000 tonnes of CO2 each year – which is as beneficial as taking 111,000 cars off the road – compared to sending the waste to rot in landfill.

“NLWA is also ensuring that the facility will be able to install carbon capture and storage, as soon as the technology becomes viable, which will see the facility preventing carbon emissions in the future.

“And as a publicly-owned facility, NLWA will also be able to run it at a lower capacity once Londoners reduce waste in future.”