In the (borderless) air tonight

The greatest period of growth for the combustion of waste in the UK took place between 1874 – when the first incinerator was built in Nottingham by Manlove, Alliott and Co Ltd – and 1912, by which time more than 300 incinerators had been built, with over 80 of these producing electricity.

Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman, Grundon Waste Management
Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman, Grundon Waste Management

It is amazing how creative a nation becomes when it has to rely on its own finite resources to supply its energy needs.

By the middle of the 20th Century, fuel supplies were cheaper, although in the 1970s that did not stop large city corporations planning waste to energy facilities in places like London and Sheffield. These were seen as a buffer against spikes in fuel prices and a solution for “tidying up” a scarred post-industrial landscape.

By 1994, the development of super landfills on the edges of our great cities led to a mere 5% of our household waste being incinerated – by comparison, Japan burned 74%. This was due to more than half its population living in areas with densities of more than 10,000 people per square mile, so landfilling waste seemed to be a rather impractical strategy.

I only mention all of this as there seems to be an opinion that without the benevolent guiding hand of the EU, we would all be swamped in a myriad of waste materials and fighting our way through a sea of plastic bags. It should come as no surprise that we have been, and are, perfectly capable of inventing our own ideas and technologies and successfully exporting them to the rest of the world.

That is except for when it comes to EFW facilities, as most of the technology now lies in the hands of the countries we exported it to, while we as a country have given up building really big things and seem to have an industrial strategy based on Twitter.

Which is sad, as I’m sure we would have noticed the diesel scandal a bit quicker than the Americans if we were producing cars on the same scale as the rest of Europe. I still find it inconceivable how European regulators missed something with such enormous consequences, hopefully they will be as swift with the recall as the Americans.

The UK is pretty rigorous when it comes to air quality. If you are building an EFW plant in the UK today rather than a hundred years ago, the focus is in what comes out far more than what goes in, and rightfully so.

Perhaps the same rigor will be applied across Europe, where four million tonnes of our waste will be burnt this year – after all, the one thing that is truly borderless around Europe is the air we share.

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