PROTESTERS have welcomed a decision to reject a waste incinerator in Swansea.
Members of the planning committee voted against an officer recommendation of approval for Biffa Waste Services’s incinerator at Swansea Enterprise Park.
Biffa wanted to treat up to 21,000 tonnes of trade and commercial waste at the facility – generating energy in the process – rather than cart it to a landfill site more than 30 miles away.
While the matter is settled, unless and until Biffa appeals the decision, there are wider questions about how trade and commercial waste is dealt with in Wales.
The Welsh Government said it expected companies which collect trade and commercial waste to recycle 70% of it by 2024-25, but crucially this is not a statutory requirement.
In contrast councils must hit recycling targets for domestic and commercial waste collection – 64% for 2019-20 and 70% in 2024-25 – or face the threat of fines.
Llansamlet councillor Alyson Pugh said she felt companies that collected trade and commercial waste should have mandatory targets.
“I think that would be a fair call,” she said. “They (the companies) should be no different to a local authority.”
Trade and commercial waste collection is a competitive sector, and councils play their part.
A Swansea Council spokesman said it collected around 10,000 tonnes of this sort of waste per year.
This compares to the 100,000 tonnes of household waste it picks up anually from the kerbside and civic amenity sites.
Biffa said the 21,000 tonnes of waste it planned to deal with at the incinerator would be shredded before recyclable materials were removed, with the main bulk then dried before burning.
This process, it said, would cut out 1,050 lorry movements annually to the Trecatti tip at Merthyr Tydfil.
The European Union and the Welsh Government have legislated to reduce the amount of waste that ends up buried in the ground, with waste-to-energy plants one place higher up Wales’s “waste hierarchy” than landfill.
There appeared to be nothing in Biffa’s planning statement accompaying its application to suggest any recycling of trade and commercial waste currently took place at its Clarion Close site, which employs 40 people.
Asked if it did, and if so roughly what proportion was recycled, a spokeswoman for the company said it did not wish to comment further, but emailed a company document which described recycling as an “environmental and economic imperative”.
The document said Biffa collected 2.3 million tonnes of business waste per year in the UK, but that it was very different to the domestic sector, where the composition of waste was broadly similar.
“By contrast, business waste composition varies hugely from one sector to another depending on the nature of the business activities, but it can be very consistent from a single customer across the country,” it said.
Another incentive to recycle is rising landfill costs. It costs nearly £120 per tonne, on average, to bury rubbish in the ground in Wales.
The Welsh Government said 1.6 million tonnes of trade and commercial waste was collected in Wales compared to 1.35 million tonnes of domestic waste, although these figures are from 2012. Around 26% of this commercial and trade waste – roughly 416,000 tonnes – ended up in landfill.
This week’s Swansea planning committee debate covered many angles – air pollution concerns, visual impact, the city’s east-west health divide, the proposed incinerator’s proximity to a nature reserve and three restaurants, including a KFC and McDonald’s.
Addressing the committee, Llansamlet councillor Ryland Dole said he felt it boiled down to one simple thing.
“Would you like to live next to this incinerator?” he said. “Would you like it in your ward?”
Councillor and committee member Paulette Smith said: “My generation has done enough damage to this Earth as it is.”
There were some 2,500 objections to Biffa’s proposal, and applause from protesters in the Guildhall chamber when the planning committee delivered its verdict.
Commenting on the planning refusal story on WalesOnline, several readers backed the committee’s stance, but questions were also raised about how much space was left at landfill sites, and whether the continuation of HGV journeys from Swansea to Merthyr was just more damage to the planet.
Speaking after the meeting, Llansamlet resident Lee Parkin said he believed companies collecting trade and commercial waste should have mandatory recycling targets.
“Of course they should,” he said.
Asked about Biffa’s waste-to-energy proposal scoring higher on the waste hierarchy than landfill, the 43-year-old said: “Why are we aiming for one better than the worst?”