Jonathan WrightNews

Incinerating waste is neither clever nor creative!

What does the application propose?

“The application proposes a waste-to-energy (WtE) facility in Lara to service greater Geelong and west metropolitan Melbourne. The facility will be designed to process approximately 400,000 tonnes of waste per year and generate 35 megawatts of electricity. Prospect Hill estimates this is enough to power up to 50,000 homes.  The facility will only take residual wastes currently destined for landfill.”

The proposed facility requires a works approval because it falls under the A08 (Waste to energy) and K01 (Power stations) categories of the Environment Protection (Scheduled Premises) Regulations 2017. The City of Greater Geelong has no say in its approval.

What are our concerns with this proposal?

Geelong Sustainability is deeply opposed to this proposal, which takes our region in the wrong direction. Geelong is a designated UNESCO City of Design and its shared vision is based upon building a clever and creative future.  

The proposed Prospect Hill waste to energy (WtE) plant in Lara would incinerate materials including items from our yellow kerbside recycling bins. Geelong Sustainability has serious environmental, economic and social concerns about this proposal.  There has not been proper community engagement.  The public had only a month to respond over the Easter school holidays and were offered a one hour online session.

Geelong’s current waste volume is 50-55,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) including 12,000t of food waste. When fully operational, this plant would burn 400,000 tpa! The EPA says WtE has a transitional role but the proposal talks about 25 years of operations.  The state government has said it will cap incineration at 1 million tpa and there are 4 other plants already in the pipeline.

GS thinks give the height of the chimney stack (80m) and size of the boiler room (50m H x 48m W x 70m L) that there’s an insufficient buffer from the townships of Lara and Corio.

Why burning waste is a bad idea?

Turning waste into energy sounds like a good idea but scratch beneath the surface and it’s sometimes a very bad idea.  Incineration is the most expensive and dirtiest form of waste-to-energy (WtE) production, releasing more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per megawatt-hour than coal, undermining jobs and destroying finite resources while leaving significant amounts of toxic ash requiring secure landfill and creating serious health risks for workers & the surrounding community.

A briefing paper from the US National Toxics Network lists 10 reasons why it’s a bad idea.

  1. Releases toxic air pollutants 
  2. Produces toxic ash
  3. Dirtiest form of energy production
  4. Destroys embedded energy
  5. Undermines recycling efforts
  6. Destroys resources
  7. Stifles innovation
  8. Waste incineration costs jobs
  9. Waste incineration undermines real renewable energy
  10. Entrenches a linear economy

Infrastructure Victoria identified the potential risk of over-investing in waste to energy infrastructure, as observed in other jurisdictions like Denmark and the Netherlands.  The Victorian Government has promised to plan for waste to energy facilities as part of the Victorian Recycling Infrastructure Plan, to provide policy certainty for waste to energy facility proponents. They have placed a cap of one million tonnes each year until 2040 on the amount of residual waste that can be used in thermal waste to energy facilities.

What’s the US experience?

Incineration operations need a certain amount of material to operate efficiently and profitably.  Put or pay contracts ensure that cities will guarantee the trash or pay punitive rates designed to ensure the material.  Not only do these contracts discourage recycling and true waste diversion, they can leave cities with significant new financial burdens.

  • Harrisburg, PA was the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history in 2011; this bankruptcy was directly caused by debts under a put or pay incinerator contract.
  • Two years later Detroit became the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history, and among the city’s major debts were $1.2 billion incurred for its incinerator.

Incinerators are bad investments because agreements such as put or pay, flow control or some other financial mandate, ensure that customers are coerced into feeding it even when cheaper alternatives exist.”

In 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency produced the chart below comparing data for all electric generating plants.  It shows how bad burning trash is!  [Note: While this data makes natural gas look clean, it’s only looking at smokestack emissions. Natural gas has greenhouse gas emissions worse than coal due to methane leakage from extraction to use, and landfills are also much worse than appears here because much of their emissions are from unfiltered toxic landfill gas escaping capture and leaking directly into the air.]

With good reasons, incinerators are being phased out in the US and in Europe.

Basis of our opposing submission

Incineration is incongruent with the circular economy principles in both the Victorian and local Government waste management policies.  GS is deeply opposed to this proposal we made a detailed submission.

  1. The proposed facility would mostly incinerate reusable waste and is contrary to Victorian and Local Government waste management policies.
  2. There is no reliable argument that the facility would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. No guarantee that expected current volume of red bin waste will actually go to the Lara facility.
  4. Volume of red bin waste will reduce in future as more waste is diverted from landfill and particularly when food waste is diverted to food organics processing.
  5. Calculations regarding “displaced demand for energy” seem unfounded and will rapidly become inaccurate as Victoria’s energy mix becomes greener.
  6. No guarantee that energy will be able to be fed into the grid.

Take Action: We encourage you to write to your local member or John Eren MP or send a letter to the Geelong Advertiser

Like to know more? References and further reading

  • You can read our full submission here.
  • Find out more & sign up for VIC updates on this proposal here
  • Visit the website of Prospect Hill Int’l – here
  • Victorian Government Waste to energy policy here
  • Victorian Government Circular economy policy here
  • Victorian Auditor General: Recovering & Reprocessing Resources from Waste – video report
  • Read the VIC Greens’ informative policy here
  • CoGG’s waste & resource recovery policy – here
  • US study – It’s Smarter to Separate – here
  • Energy Justice Network – EPA eGRID 2010 CO2, SO2 and NOx Emissions Data for US Electric Power Plants – here
  • Zero Waste Australia resources – here