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A burning problem?

There is a burning issue worrying the minds of environmental groups in Scotland - new plans by local authorities to build more incinerators. These recent plans have been criticised by environmental groups as undermining the zero waste policy set out by the Government and the waste hierarchy. Local authorities in Scotland believe that incinerators will provide a valuable source of energy for homes and are needed to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said that new technology means that incinerators bear no relation to those that were caused controversy in the past. Senior policy officer Dr Peter Olsen said: Modern energy from waste facilities are highly efficient and are covered by very strict regulatory systems that protect human health and the environment. There are strict controls in place to ensure that all wastes are managed in a manner which does not cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health, irrespective of the waste management technology involved. It is hoped that the energy produced by the incinerators could be used to heat homes and public buildings. These facilities are already in existence in Shetland and Dundee but there are plans for more. However, environmental campaigners have said that investing in more incinerators will not reduce waste. Friends of the Earth Scotland policy director Stuart Hay said: Recycling is a priority in reducing the waste energy that we use and we support the waste hierarchy. We advocate the use of incineration as a last resort and do not think councils have done enough at present to solve the problem. The health concerns with incinerators are not a big problem as they were before but they still pose a problem for the communities in which they are built. The big issue is to get people to start re-using and recycling more. Scotland still does not have one council with a recycling rate over 40% - this is a poor performance. Friends of the Earth Scotland said that local authorities would have to look more closely about how they deal with waste, especially food waste. Hay added: Home composting has a big role to play; issues such as bad food product design and packaging need to be addressed. This is so they do not end up in the waste stream and we recycle them instead of letting them end up in the waste stream. Another issue that is tormenting environmental campaigners is the ash produced by incinerators. Hay said: You end up with a pile of toxic ash at the end of the incinerator process. There are health concerns that the public will be breathing in toxic ash. Yet, SEPA claim that the modern incinerators are capable of safely disposing of ash and capturing it. Ash is produced in these thermal treatment plants [incinerators] either as bottom ash which is un-burnt residue of the process, or as fly ash from the effective operation of air pollution abatement systems, said Olsen. SEPA state that it will apply strict conditions to companies to make sure the ash is safely disposed of. However, it acknowledges that: Some fly ash may well be special waste if it displays certain hazardous properties and operators would be required to identify such properties in determining an appropriate recovery or disposal route for the fly ash. Scotlands Green Party said that incineration will only encourage more waste production because plants need certain volumes of waste in order to remain profitable. Speaker for justice Patrick Harvie said: The Executive has failed to meet its target for reducing waste to landfill but rather than focus more on recycling and waste minimisation, I am appalled that the government is condoning councils that are opting for incineration, possibly the least environmentally friendly option. That means more waste production and more resources going up in smoke thats hardly in the interests of Scottish taxpayers and business. A Green Party spokesman continued: Local authorities only want to build more incinerators to avoid going to court in relation to the landfill directive. It will only create hungry beasts - the more rubbish they burn the more money they make. It will turn the sky into a landfill site. But SEPA manager of the waste and resource strategy unit said that many of the European countries that were recognised for the high level of recycling they carried out had also been incinerating waste for a considerable amount of time. He said: High levels of recycling and incineration are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In 1990, 55% of dioxins in the UK came from incineration, now it is 0.2%.

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