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The furnaces burn the waste at 850°C, which drives a steam turbine to produce base load electricity. The plant can produce 66 MWatts of power and there are possibilities that the waste heat may eventually be used locally to heat homes, factories or offices. Waste gases are scrubbed and emissions are closely monitored to make sure they comply with the EU and Government standards. The ash is sent by barge (blue containers this time) to Tilbury in Essex where it is screened to remove metal and then used to make aggregate for the construction sector. It is already being used on the M25 widening scheme.

So that’s all good then? Of course there’s no free lunch, even plants like Belvedere have their environmental downside.

What is the environmental impact of burning waste? Waste incinerators have been vigorously opposed by environmentalists and residents close to such facilities. Hence the 15 years of

Belvedere plant from the south, showing jetty

Mayor of London has set targets to recycle or compost at least 45% of municipal waste by 2015, 50% by 2020 and 60% by 2031. The City has increased recycling and composting levels almost three-fold in the last 7 years. Based on past performance, it looks as if we should reach the Mayor’s targets - but it will be interesting to see if this rate of increase is maintained.

What about air pollution? The current generation of waste incinerators have to operate under strict emission standards. Poor air quality is a major concern of residents in London. Road transport is the source of 79% of fine particles (PM10) and 60% of Nitrogen Oxide emissions. The contribution of incineration plants is currently quite low. However, as the Mayor is encouraging the growth of local Combined Heat and Power plants (there are two CHP plants within a few hundred metres of the Barbican) this source of pollution is set to increase.

planning enquiries at Belvedere. Environmentalists argue that in an ideal world the amount of waste we generate would be substantially reduced (less packaging; less built-in obsolescence; more hiring or renting or sharing rather than buying new) and what we do finally throw away would be recycled.

Do plants like Belvedere mean there less incentive to reduce waste or recycle? Environmentalists suggest that waste incineration reduces the incentive for households to reduce or recycle. The

Do they really reduce greenhouse gas emissions? It is generally accepted that incinerators produce more CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour than gas fired power stations but less than that from coal fired power stations. Friends of the Earth go further and maintain that incinerator emissions are only marginally better than those for landfill. However, incineration produces CO2 whereas landfill generates methane, which is 20 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas.

Incineration is the most expensive option? This is certainly true for us in the Barbican. Whereas the City is paid about £30 for each tonne of recycling, we are paying about £125 per tonne for the disposal of black bag waste, although this would probably be even higher if our

waste was sent to one of the few remaining landfill sites.

Composting of food waste costs us £40 to £100 per tonne. So there are

“substantial savings are attached to recycling or composting”

substantial savings attached to recycling or composting.

Maybe we have now come full circle. In

Victorian times nearly every item of waste was worth something to somebody - as Mr Boffin, the Golden Dustman would agree. Then for years during the last century we dumped our rubbish in landfill sites like Mucking. Today a new generation of Golden Dustmen, companies like Cory, are considering opening up these old tips and mining them for the resources they contain or generating power from our waste.

Sarah Hudson is a member of the Barbican Association Sustainability Group. A more detailed version of this article is posted on the BA website www.barbicanassociation. com with attached references. If you would like to learn more about the Sustainability Group’s current projects please email ba_sustainability@btinternet. com. Or come along to our monthly meetings in the Seddon House meeting room. Dates of meetings are on the BA website.

The waste bunker at the Belevedere facility

The City’s Recycling team will be on hand to answer questions and to promote the campaign Love Food Hate Waste at the Barbican Library’s Christmas Fayre on 14 December at 16.00


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