Dumping has left us a mountain to climb

It has become a symbol of our inadquate efforts to deal with our ever increasing mountains of rubbish. As the campaign against a new incinerator near Norwich gains momentum Lorna Marsh reports on attempts to bin our throwaway society.

It has become a symbol of our inadquate efforts to deal with our ever increasing mountains of rubbish. As the campaign against a new incinerator near Norwich gains momentum Lorna Marsh reports on attempts to bin our throwaway society.

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Environmentalists repeatedly warn that we are coming to the end of a golden age of consumerism and disposability with volumes of waste rising and the earth's resources being depleted.

It might sound overly pessimistic, but one thing that cannot be argued with is that rubbish is taking over the world, landfill sites are filling to the brim and every other means of disposing of our waste is fundamentally flawed because there is only so much more one planet can take.

Councils have a seemingly impossible task on their hands trying to dispose of a never-ending cycle of packaging and unwanted items in a way that is as green as possible - for surely no method exists that is truly environmentally friendly.

Not only have officials got to deal with concerns over the environment but the costs involved in various methods which are being driven up by both European and national legislation as well as tax increases.

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While according to reports councils are dealing with recycling more effectively than ever before and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills there will always be a residue - and still more to be done.

Plans by Norfolk County Council to build an incinerator on the edge of Norwich have met with severe criticism not only from opposition parties but thousands of concerned residents and now a Tory MP, speaking out against his fellow Conservatives' own proposal.

The outcry is indicative of how thorny the waste issue is and there seems to be no easy solution.

Opponents to the incinerator claim that not only is it a “lazy” option that will use up vital money and energy and discourage recycling but quote previous studies suggesting the residue can be harmful.

Yet despite cross-party moves to try to get alternatives back on the agenda noone seems to agree on what should be done.

At last night's full Norwich City Council meeting Lib Dems proposed a motion for a presentation to be made on Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT), a generic term for an integration of several processes found in other waste management methods including anaerobic digestion, the technique of producing energy from waste.

Lib Dem councillor Judith Lubbock said: “There is great concern that the proposed energy from waste plant at Costessey is not now achievable. There is huge opposition to it, no land has yet been purchased. Time is slipping away if as a county we are to reach the target date of 2011, when heavy financial penalties come into force for landfill waste.

“We wanted all the facts and to know what would be the effects of an energy from waste plant at Costessey on the environment and on the residents near the proposed site. We felt it was the most effective way to deal with the proposals rather than just be against them in principle. That information has not been forthcoming so we are now asking the city council to inform itself of the alternatives. We think it is vital to be looking at what is the best solution for Norfolk's waste and one that is acceptable to the public and deliverable within the tight timescale.”

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, spoke out against fellow Tory plans for the incinerator and is in favour of more research into MBT.

But leader of Norwich City Council's Green Party Adrian Ramsay wants a yet more radical solution - recycling brought to a whole new level in the form of resource recovery parks (RRPs), which aim to find an alternative future life for every bit of rubbish we throw away.

Mr Ramsay defends the possible cost of such a centre by pointing out that any solution would be expensive and one fault with the incinerator option is that it locks the council into a 25-year-contract with WRG that stipulates the level of waste to be processed. Should recycling rocket the council may be forced to source waste from elsewhere or stump up for a service it doesn't use.

However Ian Monson, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for environ-ment and waste, insisted the incinerator was still the most suitable option.

“We are charged with finding the best solution for what happens to Norfolk's residual waste. We have looked very carefully at the best way forward and are acutely aware that some sort of facility is going to be needed to deal with left-over waste which currently goes to landfill,” he said.

“I respect that different people will have different views about the best ways forward, but I strongly believe we have allowed the best solutions to come to the fore through our bidding process.”

The United Kingdom has always had a bad record in dealing with its rubbish compared with other European countries.

While Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands forged ahead with recycling, composting and using waste to generate energy, the UK carried on dumping in landfill sites and we are now years behind in dealing with the growing mountain of waste.

The idea of reducing waste bulk by incinerating it and producing electricity sounds attractive but in reality is less so. It seems we have all got to help do our bit to make sure we reduce, reuse and recycle as much waste as possible. Still latest studies show that the maximum level of recycling that is economically efficient is 40pc.

It seems our environment is in the hands of local authorities and the best we can do is hope it is harmed as little as possible.