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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 August 2007, 23:12 GMT 00:12 UK
Councils 'plan more incinerators'
Incinerator flames
Supporters believe burning waste can provide energy for homes
Local authorities are putting together controversial plans for a new generation of waste incinerators across Scotland, the BBC understands.

The councils believe incinerators will provide a valuable source of energy and are needed to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill sites.

Campaigners have criticised the move, which they say would create toxic ash.

Under European law, councils must find alternatives to landfill or risk multi-million pound fines.

Rubbish going into landfill rots down and produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

But in the past there have been health fears and strong public opposition surrounding the idea of dealing with the landfill problem by burning waste instead.

Not only are we creating all this excess packaging but people are having to see it burnt on their doorstep
Stuart Hay
Friends of the Earth Scotland

The fears have centred around the potential risk from breathing in fumes from the chimney, and concern that a waste-hungry fire undermines efforts to recycle.

However, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) believes energy from waste or incineration is a safe, tried and tested way to deal with rubbish that cannot be recycled, and is commonly used across Europe.

It hopes the huge amounts of energy produced by the incinerators could be used to heat homes and public buildings.

A facility on Shetland takes in waste from oil rigs and produces enough energy to supply hot water to 700 homes and 90 businesses, including a hospital and leisure centre.

The Shetland plant is one of two municipal waste incinerators in Scotland, with the other operating in Dundee.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said new technology means today's incinerators bear no relation to those of the past.

John Ferguson, manager of the agency's waste and resource strategy unit, said that it would take a modern incinerator 120 years to emit as much dioxin as the Millennium firework exhibition did in London.

'Waste of resources'

He added that many European countries which were recognised for the high level of recycling they carried out had also been incinerating waste for some time.

Mr Ferguson said: "High levels of recycling and incineration are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

"In 1990 55% of dioxins in the UK came from incineration, now it is 0.2%.

"Dioxin levels are a 10th of what was allowed even 10 years ago and you are seeing a stricter and stricter regime of regulatory powers being applied to the management of these emissions."

But Friends of the Earth Scotland said there would still be a residue of toxic ash produced by incinerators, and insisted reducing waste was the answer.

Policy director Stuart Hay said: "We would rather see waste prevention, reuse of products and recycling because it saves more energy, it saves the waste of resources and you don't end up with a pile of toxic ash at the end of the process.

"The priority is always to prevent waste in the first place - that is the way to save energy - and then to reuse and recycle.

"That is the way forward and we just haven't got that sorted out so now to rush to do incineration is the worst of both worlds really.

"Not only are we creating all this excess packaging but people are having to see it burnt on their doorstep."

The Scottish Executive said no decision had been taken yet on how best to meet the European landfill directive.

The landfill proposal has caused controversy

City warned of rubbish headache
15 Dec 06 |  North East/N Isles
Rubbish 'key issue' for Highlands
25 Apr 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Scotland 'hits recycling targets'
06 Feb 06 |  Scotland

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