18 May 2000 Edition
Great waste management debate
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
High on the hill above Galway Bay, on a beautiful sunny evening last Sunday, 14 May, hundreds flocked into the Corrib Great Southern Hotel to hear the `great debate' when opponents of incineration put their arguments directly to M.C. O'Sullivans - the consulting engineers which have drawn up most of the draft plans for waste management for the regional authorities throughout the 26 Counties.
These draft plans have all proposed `thermal treatment', incineration, as a necessary step if we are to meet EU targets for waste reduction, re-use and recycling (the three Rs) in the next decade and to divert waste away from landfills, which in many regions are near exhausted.
P.J. Rudden, from M.C. O'Sullivan, supported by Danish Waste Management consultant Gunnar Kjaer and Nicklas Johansson from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, lined up to justify this position.
Opponents of incineration have argued that the choice of `burn or bury' is a false choice. Present recycling technologies allow targets of well over 50% of waste to the three Rs. These targets can only be achieved through widespread door-to-door separated waste collection and community -centred waste management where local authorities retain control.
Privatised waste collection, they argue, is a licence to print money through gaining a monopoly position to meet a social necessity. What is privately the most profitable to the business sector conflicts with what is socially, economically and environmentally most advantageous for the country.
The opponents of incineration had a team of experts to put their position, including Dr. Vyvyan Howard, an expert in foetal and infant toxicopathology from Liverpool University, Dr. Conchúr Ó Brádaigh, a mechanical engineer from NUI, Galway, and Professor Paul Connett, from St. Lawrence University, New York.
P.J. Rudden opened the debate with a summary of M.C. O'Sullivan's position, claiming that emissions from incineration were down to 99% safe. Quoting the Department of the Environment, he claimed that ``incineration is safe, tried and tested, and has no environmental impact''.
In response, Dr. Ó Brádaigh claimed there were many flaws and mysteriously disappearing statistics in the draft plan's figures. In particular, he said, the Plan underestimates the toxic ash which must be disposed of in landfill. The incineration enthusiasts claimed this ash, at least the bottom ash, was not toxic. Their opponents pointed to a case last week in Newcastle, England, where public health officials had to ban children from 27 allotments and footpaths and issue public warnings not to eat foodstuff produced there because of the high level of toxicity in the soil from incinerator ash which had been dumped there.
There was heavy contention over international dioxin levels, over the costs of incineration, and over the claims made that many areas, including California, Seattle, Ontario, and Australia were really achieving their claimed targets of over 60% of waste recycling. P.J. Rudden claimed these recycling figures were spurious, as waste went out to landfills in other areas. Professor Connett appeared to settle the matter when he talked of how he had been there and had seen what was going on in many of these areas.
Dr. Howard referred to low testosterone levels and near sterility amongst a high proportion of males in Denmark, which he claimed were the probable effects of dioxins from incineration. Gunnar Kjaer mentioned that there were several children in his family and they weren't sterile. Dr. Howard retorted that this was scarcely a representative sample.
Conchúr Ó Brádaigh asked why the plan proposed a target for the diversion of waste to recycling by 2003 of 43%. (At present 4% of waste is recycled.) But after 2003, there is no further plan to increase recycling. Could it be, he asked, that the incinerator was intended to come on stream at that date? PJ Rudden replied that the draft plan was only a five-year plan.
Paul Connett talked of the exorbitant costs of incineration. The American experience of incineration technology, which has become outdated, include the closure of incinerators because they could not meet their debts. Gate fees became exorbitant. But the monster has to be fed, which presented a barrier to recycling.
The debate ended with a heartfelt plea from Dr. Howard that our present environment without incinerators is `gold dust' by comparison with the rest of Europe. ``Look after your fishing industry, your sea, your farming, your peoples' health. Nurture it. Don't throw it away.''
Mayo Sinn Féin urges clean, green option
``A clean dioxin free environment is the envy of all EU states - Why do we want to throw it away?
This morning, Thursday, 18 May, Mayo Sinn Féin will present their submission on the Draft Plan for the Connaught Region to the council.
``We make a radical critique of M.C. O'Sullivan's draft report, which we submit to the councillors is an inadequate report which fails to consider or cost any alternatives to the one policy of thermal treatment of a major fraction of the region's waste stream,'' says Vincent Wood from Castlebar.
``It is inexcusable, given the well known unpopularity of incineration, the fact that a vast majority of people find it quite unacceptable, that the consultants should have gone about selling us `Thermal Treatment', without question, cost-benefit analysis, or even a consideration of the case against. The days of accepting unquestioningly the edicts of the minister, or the so-called experts, are long gone.''
``All of us in Sinn Féin took quite a bit of trouble to put a fairly full submission together because we think the issue is of the greatest of importance, especially to this region, with its dependence upon retaining a clean environment for agriculture, fishing and tourism,'' says Dave Keating from Westport.
``And waste management raises all the key issues of western development - the very survival of the small farmer and the rural communities; the issues of community participation, democracy and the powers of local government; and the key issue of whether public/private partnerships are suitable vehicles to meet social needs for a waste management strategy.
``Crucially, waste management raises the issue of the equality agenda itself, which stipulates that policies should not discriminate against the disadvantaged within our region, no more than they should discriminate between different regions across the country.
``M.C. O'Sullivan's proposals in the draft plan continue with the same old story, which has discriminated against the disadvantaged regions, the very policies which councillors have let decimate the West in the past.
``What point is there for us in the West to be drawing down additional EU funding for the development of the region, when our key asset and comparative advantage over the EU, a clean green environment, is to be thrown away, carelessly, just because Minister Dempsey thinks that burning up trash is the best way out of it?
``What point is there for a national agreement to share the wealth of the Celtic Tiger, the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, if without question local authorities go ahead to tax the people, through household waste charges which themselves far exceed the proposed increases in real income of the working people? Waste Management is at the very heart of local government.''
A copy of the submission can be obtained from [email protected]
SF unveils waste plan for North-East
``Viable alternative to incineration'' - Ó Caoláin
There is now a concerted effort to build a network of incinerators throughout the country. They will constitute an industry, the raw material of which is waste. This region, and Ireland, should not be going down this road.
A new system for management of agricultural waste which could greatly benefit agriculture and enhance the environment in Counties Cavan, Monaghan and beyond has been unveiled by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. The innovative alternative to waste incineration is included in the Sinn Féin response to the Draft Waste Management Plan for the North East Region which was submitted on 12 May.
``This is an exciting idea on which much original and pioneering work has been done by its originators, Microclean Ltd.'' said Ó Caoláin. The system, which uses spent mushroom compost, poultry litter and oil-contaminated soil to produce a quality topsoil can be a key element in waste management for the entire North East region comprising Counties Monaghan, Cavan, Louth and Meath.''The Draft Plan as presented to the four County Councils is inadequate, especially its reliance on the construction of an incinerator for this region. However, as well as identifying theshortcomings of the plan, we felt it was vital also to present alternatives.''
The proposed Microclean system can be adapted to deal with other agicultural waste such as that from pig and cattle production.
The response to the Draft Plan was drawn up by Deputy Ó Caoláin and his nine Sinn Féin County Councillor colleagues in the region. We carry here a summary of the Submission.
This Submission introduces a new and very innovative project. This concept in waste management has its origin in the difficulties faced by mushroom and poultry producers in this region, particularly in Co. Monaghan. Their undoubted potential to expand is not being met because the waste products from the industry - spent mushroom compost and poultry litter - cannot be adequately managed at present. The local authority in Co. Monaghan, therefore, has had to restrict permissions for additional poultry and mushroom production facilities.
Conscious of the problem of agricultural waste management and the consequent restriction on a key industry in the region, Cavan/Monaghan Dáil Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin requested Microclean Environmental Ltd, a company specialising in treatment of hydrocarbon contaminated soil, to come up with a solution.
Thus was made the apparently unlikely connection between spent mushroom compost, poultry litter and hydrocarbon contaminated soil. Microclean developed the concept and came up with a unique solution.
The Microclean Waste Treatment Project is simple and straightforward. It converts three environmentally damaging forms of waste into a valuable and natural substance which is in short supply.
Poultry litter and spent mushroom compost present major challenges to the industry and to local authorities. Contaminated soil is a persistent problem. Spills of oil and other hydrocarbons literally kill the soil, destroying all organisms and shutting out air and water. Most spills occur in the domestic sphere - accidents with home-heating oil tanks predominantly.
Poultry and mushroom farming solution
The Microclean Project offers a solution to the poultry and mushroom farmer and to the householder whose soil is destroyed. The farmers' waste is managed and the householder has his or her contaminated soil replaced with a quality topsoil.
There are three stages to the process:
1. Poultry litter and spent mushroom compost is mixed in carefully controlled and monitored conditions to produce a balanced compost.
2. Oil contaminated soil is treated (inoculated) with a naturally occurring micro-organism to produce pre-remediated soil.
3.The compost and the pre-remediated soil are mixed to produce a rich topsoil.
Microclean have completed comprehensive research and development work on their proposal. They are at present seeking funding for a pilot project.