Research and Information Group

Yesterday's decision in Galway is certainly a victory for the government. But the losers are democracy, common sense and truth.

On one side of the debate there are citizens and community groups who, at great personal cost, have taken it upon themselves to learn about waste resources. Their informed opinion tells them that incineration of waste is not only environmentally risky but that it is actually an impediment in the path of the improved management of waste resources.

On the other side we have the government in the form of the Department of Environment and Local Government (something of a misnomer) and its entourage of engineering consultants. They would have us believe that incineration is necessary, safe, without any problems and that it is only scaremongering to suggest otherwise.

It seems if you criticise a government policy, even if your criticism is accurate and intended to be constructive, it is "scaremongering". Some examples of scaremongering: reminding the consultants who drew up the incineration plans that they have omitted the thorny question of where hazardous ash from the incinerator will go (in the now infamous Vienna incinerator it is sent across to Germany to go into deep salt mines); reminding the decision makers that incinerators are unable to trap the finest (and most deadly) particulates (not to mention heavy metals etc.); stating that expensive outings to Europe for hundreds of councillors to view incinerators might be a little one sided and a little superficial; pointing out that incineration is an expensive technology and wastes materials that could instead be otherwise exploited for economic benefit. Oh and it is also scaremongering to suggest that the Minister is both badly informed and autocratic in the manner that he has pressured Fianna Fail councillors behind closed doors to do his bidding.

But government is never guilty of scaremongering. Some examples of "not scaremongering": Presenting the issue of waste always as a crisis that sneaked up on us without any warning; demanding that there can be only
one solution to the problem, namely the government's plans; suggesting that Irish people are lazy slobs who are incapable of learning any skills of waste segregation (even though all those American companies come here because of our high education); presenting incineration as a "proven and robust technology" even though it remains the highest source of dioxin in Europe having also contributed significantly to Europe's disastrous high levels in food; threatening to impose incineration on communities if local authorities do not pull the trigger themselves.
Such is the government's usage of that one word to misrepresent genuine and well researched opinions that are seen as a threat.

Let me finally comment on one point that is repeatedly mentioned in national and local discussions: Even with high levels of waste diversion what happens to the remainder? Why not incinerate this portion.

With incineration it is difficult to reach high levels of diversion. Incineration directly competes for materials of high energy content that could otherwise be recycled/reused. Incineration allows us to continue to generate more waste. According to the OECD, Denmark with nearly 60% incineration is the third highest producer of waste in Europe! In Austria organic waste that could be used beneficially for composting is sent instead for incineration if its energy content is high. And remember incineration does not destroy matter. The remaining ash (30% of original), after all that expense, still needs a landfill!

Lets hope someone is listening even if the government isn't!

Yours constructively,

Joe Bridges