Hampshire broadens its incinerator inputs

Hampshire County Council has changed the planning conditions for its three incinerators to allow more commercial waste and waste from outside the county to be burnt. Without the changes, its incineration capacity could limit domestic recycling.

Hampshire’s three incinerators can now take more commercial waste and material from outside the county alongside local household waste, following changes to their planning conditions.

Hampshire County Council says the changes were made to cut unnecessary vehicle movements. But documents submitted to its planners reveal that without the changes, excess incineration capacity might also have crowded out further recycling.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and anti-incineration campaigners have alleged excess incineration capacity is preventing food waste collections in the county. The council and its waste contractor, Veolia Environmental Services, refused to comment. Hampshire approved the revised conditions for its incinerators in Marchwood, Portsmouth and Chineham at the end of last year.

In the past, the three sites had different conditions. Portsmouth was the only facility allowed to take waste from outside the county but it could not accept commercial waste. Chineham could take commercial waste collected by, or on behalf of, Hampshire’s councils but not private firms. Marchwood could take commercial waste from both sources.

The change allows all three sites to take commercial and imported waste as long as waste from Hampshire is prioritised. Veolia believes this will cut the distances waste is transported. Currently any material from outside the county has to be hauled to Portsmouth, while commercial waste from private collectors all over the county has to travel to Marchwood, near Southampton.

"Such movements are illogical and environmentally unsustainable as they increase CO2 emissions and add to the cost of disposal," Veolia said in documents supporting the changes.

But the firm’s submissions also admitted the previous restrictions were affecting the efficiency of all three sites and "will also tend to hamper rather than assist the achievement of higher recycling and composting rates".

Elsewhere it said: "Changes in waste collection, in particular increased recycling since the facility was originally permitted, means that there will be spare capacity."

When the incinerators were built in the early 2000s, the government was aiming to recycle 33% of household waste by 2015. In 2007, the target was raised to 45% and a new 2020 goal of 50% introduced. Last year, the best performing councils achieved rates over 60% and there are calls for the targets to be raised again (see pp 28-31).

"It would clearly be less efficient and less sustainable to run at a lower capacity when there was similar waste from other sources which needed disposal," Veolia said. "The [incinerators] also provide a secure sustainable source of energy, which would be reduced if there was a lower capacity."

The three facilities can together take some 490,000 tonnes of waste a year. Hampshire burnt 430,000t of municipal waste (48% of total arisings) in 2007. At that point, it was recycling or composting 39% and landfilling 13%.

If recycling and composting rates reach 50% while total waste arisings and landfill rates remain broadly unchanged, there will only be enough household waste to fill two of the three incinerators.

Despite this, Hampshire is still a net exporter of waste to other counties, sending 360,000t for treatment elsewhere in 2007, most of it commercial and industrial. Targets established under the 2007 Hampshire mineral and waste core strategy require the county to be self-sufficient, in net terms, in its waste treatment by 2016.

Being allowed to burn more of the 1.85 million tonnes of commercial waste the country produces every year should help meet this goal. Veolia said it was unable to comment on the changes but its submissions do provide some support for arguments raised by anti-incineration groups.

FoE has been suggesting for a while that long-term PFI waste contracts, often centred around incinerators, are in danger of creating excess capacity that holds back recycling.

Surrey dropped plans for two large incinerators at the end of last year after growth in recycling rates made them less attractive (ENDS Report 419, pp 20-21).

FoE says it has also heard councils in Kent are unable to expand furniture reuse programmes because the material is needed for the county’s incinerator. But Kent County Council denies this.

Of Hampshire’s district councils, only Eastleigh runs food waste collections. Frank Pearson, a councillor for Winchester City, told ENDS food waste collections were not cost-effective when compared with incineration. The material collected would have to be shipped outside the county and gate fees for anaerobic digestion are high, he said. The situation would change if an anaerobic digestion plant was built in Hampshire, he added.