Feeling burned

Sharlene Gandhi asks if incinerators are really the best way to dispose of waste

The current incinerator in Edmonton, opened in 1969, is due to be rebuilt

Incineration – dubbed by its proponents as ‘energy-from-waste’ (EfW) – involves burning residual waste which cannot be recycled and would otherwise be left in landfill sites.

This process produces thermal energy that can heat local homes and commercial businesses – and Enfield’s waste is processed in this way at Edmonton EcoPark. Although evidently not a renewable energy source, EfW helps us steer away from our reliance on coal, oil and natural gas.

According to Jacob Hayler, director of the Environment Services Association, incineration also produces fewer emissions than if waste was sent instead to a landfill site. A brand new incinerator is soon set to be built in Edmonton, to replace the ageing one there currently.

Meanwhile, the North London Waste Plan (NLWP) proposed by seven local authorities, including Enfield Council, aims to increase the proportion of recyclable waste collected from homes and businesses. But by relying so heavily on a facility that processes only residual waste, the NLWP is effectively turning its back on recycling targets.

As levels of recycling stagnate (Enfield’s recycling rate declined last year and remains below the national average) and levels of incineration are set to overtake the former, it seems as though local authorities are taking the lazy route out. Ironically, the new Edmonton incinerator is due to be built with a community and visitor centre, in an attempt to educate Enfield citizens on correct recycling practice.

Collaborating with six other boroughs on the NLWP – namely Barnet, Camden, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest – does lessen the pressure on Enfield sites, particularly the Edmonton EcoPark, by spreading responsibility across North London. But Pinkham Way, a site in Haringey that borders Enfield, is one of the larger sites that has been set aside for potential waste management. While there are “no immediate plans” to utilise it, locals have already expressed their discontent with the potential air pollution, noise pollution, congestion and other health hazards that would accompany a waste plant in this area, which currently acts as a wildlife haven.

Councillor Yasemin Brett, who is responsible for public health in Enfield, expressed her dissatisfaction with the inclusion of Pinkham Way in the NLWP by walking out of a cabinet meeting last year, an act for which she was temporarily relieved from her post. The conflict of waste management and environmental sustainability is embodied perfectly through the example of Pinkham Way. On the one hand is the growing need for waste management facilities, being made all the more urgent by a stagnating recycling rate and unreactive authorities, and on the other, is the very biodiversity this waste plan seeks to protect.