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Published date: 14 December 2021

Response to All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Quality report

This week we saw the publication of the APPG report, titled Pollution from Waste Incineration. The report discusses the effects of Energy from Waste facilities on the health of local communities. We have read the report and wish to state the following: 

Cllr Clyde Loakes, Chair of NLWA said:

“While the report by the APPG on Air Pollution uses an image of our facility on the front page, it doesn’t make any link between our facility and negative health impacts, or undermine the fact that ours will be the safest and cleanest in the UK. The report actually concludes that NOx levels are too high in other facilities. That’s why ours will have a lower limit than any other operational UK facility, as part of our commitment to protecting public health.

There is no reference to the most detailed, robust and recent reviews of energy from waste facilities carried out by Imperial College London, and supported by Public Health England, which contradict claims made in the report. Imperial College London has stated: “modern and well-regulated incinerators are likely to have a very small, or even undetectable, impact on people living nearby.”

The APPG on Sustainable Resources delivered a report in 2020 which clearly concludes: “It has become commonplace to dismiss energy from waste as dangerous and associate it with claims of health risks, despite no evidence to support this.”

North London Waste Authority presented at the meeting with the APPG on Air Pollution in September where it was acknowledged by industry and scientific experts that the Edmonton Energy Recovery Facility will have better pollution controls than any other UK facility. It was suggested that ours is a benchmark for others to follow, and that 19 (now 20) facilities have been consented since ours in 2017, and none will have the full range of high-tech environmental controls that ours will. Residents can be assured that we are investing in the very best technologies, well beyond UK legal requirements to ensure we are safeguarding the communities in north London.

As a result of the emissions controls we are deploying and the high altitude of release, the contribution of the Energy Recovery Facility at ground level, where people breathe, is very small. For the majority of the year its contribution is close to zero, and for only a few hours in a year would the levels be measurable where they would be less than 2% of the relevant air quality standard. In comparison across London, road transport causes 60% of NOx emissions and 25% of particulates. Domestic wood burning is also an increasing source of small particulates, and, unlike our energy recovery facility, there are no controls in place to clean up these emissions at source.

The studies referenced in the report are outliers, focusing on particular facilities elsewhere in the world that have not been linked to our clean and modern facility in Edmonton. For example, some of the key studies citied have been discredited by later studies concluding that they did not affect the areas directly surrounding them or cannot be uniquely identified as the source of pollutants. None of the studies cited relate to carefully controlled, modern UK facilities. To that end it calls into question the value and position of this report and whether or not it was peer reviewed before its coincidental release this week.

In terms of an incineration tax and inclusion within an Emissions Trading Scheme, this would just hit cash-strapped local councils and not tackle the root cause of the problem. The High Court already dismissed this as recently as June 2021 and the key target has to be all the rubbish that’s produced in the first place. That’s why we’re investing in state of the art of recycling infrastructure, the biggest investment into such infrastructure in in London for decades. But what we really need is systemic change: for businesses to stop churning out single-use plastics, and for Government to stop years of dithering and get on with urgent reforms we’ve been calling on for years. This means compulsory recycling now and a deposit return scheme now.

The existing plant was designed for 700,000 tonnes but currently operates at a lower capacity due to its age. This means a proportion of north London's waste is being sent elsewhere. The new facility will mean we will not have to export waste to other areas and is flexible enough so it doesn't need to be full to operate. As a publicly owned facility we will have the ability to apply further technological advancements as they develop to ensure our plant can continue to be the safest, cleanest facility in the UK.”