Artificial demand for waste. New Haven Incinerator case study 

Air pollution comes in different forms and one of the types of it is caused by incinerating waste, including plastics. Here, in the South East of England the Newhaven incinerator demonstrates how modern society is creating an “artificial demand for waste”. The reason for that demand is that “recycling most materials from municipal solid waste saves on average three to five times more energy than does burning them for electricity” (Sound Resource Management Group Inc. in Olympia, Washington) Local councils therefore have to promise to provide huge amounts of waste for at least 25 years, in order for incinerators to be worth building. This means there is little incentive for councils to reduce waste or increase recycling beyond minimum targets. Incinerators need a mix of items, including plastic and paper, to burn at the right temperature. Therefore, according to Argus, 2017,“aside of plastics  FIFTY tonnes a week of good quality cardboard set aside by householders for recycling is instead being incinerated” A Veolia employee told the Argus that for the last five weeks, around 10 tonnes a day of material which should be taken for recycling is being burned along with general waste at the Newhaven incinerator. (This means recyclable materials will be burnt and there is less incentive to ensure these materials are separated for recycling )Incinerators are often called “Energy from Waste” or “Energy Recovery” facilities because they can produce small amounts of electricity as a by-product of burning rubbish. According to Friends of the Earth, 2007, though most UK incinerators are not very efficient at capturing energy, meaning that they release a large amount of greenhouse gases to produce a small amount of energy,thus polluting our atmosphere with very small benefit for the local population.

Eastbourne “Recycling” Centre

The image above shows that the St. Phillips Avenue Recycling Centre Eastbourne only accepts plastic bottles, all other plastics have to go into domestic waste, without recycling, to be incinerated at New Haven.

Dioxins and their impact on human health 

According to Eastbourne’s local contractor Veolia the incinerator processes 210,000 tonnes of waste per year, including plastics. Plastics being petroleum based, emit toxic gases when burnt including dioxins which should be strictly controlled under European Pollution Legislation. However it has been claimed by Friends of the Earth, 2007, that these levels are very difficult to control and that, on occasions, they have been above the European Limit, potentially causing health problems for the local population.

Dioxins are environmental pollutants, which have been shown significantly affecting a number of organs and systems. According to World Health Organisation, 2016, “once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. Dioxins are mainly a by-product from industrial processes such as incineration, manufacturing of different products, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and so on. World Health Organisation, 2016, claims that “short-term exposure of humans to high levels of dioxins may result in skin lesions, such as chloracne and patchy darkening of the skin, and altered liver function. Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions”. The incidents of cancer due to the long term exposure to dioxins were also documented.