Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Irish General Election 2011: Irish Waste Policy and Gombeenism

The Fernwärmewerk Spittelau incinerator/heating plant, Vienna. It supplies more than a quarter of a million houses and over 5,000 industrial consumers with heating and is also a tourist attraction. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Former Irish environment minister John Gormley who is also Green Party leader, in office since 2007 until last weekend, spent much of his time trying to counter the economics of a government decision in 2007 to build a waste incinerator in his constituency of Dublin South-East.

In recent weeks, Gormley wrote to his constituents informing them that the incinerator “cannot go ahead” because of planned new levies.

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council has said that it is implementing Government policy.

The cocktail of gombeenism and Nimbyism (not in my backyard syndrome), means that according to 3 State agencies - - Forfás, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland - - in a submission to the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government in April 2010, that in terms of municipal waste treatment, while Ireland has made progress on recycling, rates have slowed in recent years.

Ireland continues to have a high reliance on landfill for municipal waste treatment, landfilling 62% of municipal waste in 2008 (compared to the Eurozone average of 32%). The submission said that it is notable that Ireland currently has no municipal waste-to-energy incinerators and limited incineration capacity (3%) compared to the Eurozone average of 24%. It said it is also worth noting that many countries that are currently expanding waste-to-energy capacity, such as Denmark and Germany, also have the highest recycling rates.

In Germany in 2009, 35.4m tonnes of waste were disposed of in landfills, 6m tonnes or 14.8% less than in the preceding year. As reported by Destatis, the federal statistics office, this week, this is the lowest level since the amounts of landfill waste began to be recorded in 1975. Thus there is a continuing trend to treat or burn waste instead of dumping it.

According to Evridiki Bersi of the Greek newspaper, Kathimerini, Germany had around 50,000 landfills in 1970. Now, in a country of 83m inhabitants, there are less than 300 and they don t take unsorted garbage. They only accept what is left after recyclable items have been removed and the rest has been subjected to various processes that compress it into an inert mass. In 2020, those landfills will be out of operation because by then Germany plans to make use of all garbage and the energy produced by it.

Landfill is a serious threat to water supplies.

The German Business Institute (IW) estimates that Germany saves €3.7bn a year thanks to recycling and the production of energy from waste.

Proper waste processing saves the German economy 20% of the cost of metals and 3% of the cost of energy imports.

The 55,000 old garbage dumps have been replaced by 70 incinerators, 60 biological and mechanical waste-processing factories, and 800 units producing compost from organic waste.

Dublin City Manager John Tierney said in February 2010, that he was implementing Government policy! He said €59.5m had already been spent on the project -- €34m on acquiring the site of the former Poolbeg power station and €25.5m in consultants’ fees.

Consider a well-run country in contrast, Austria, where the unemployment rate is just over 4% - - among the lowest of the EU27 countries.

There is of course a fat chance of the Irish acknowledging the lamentable record of public project implementation and looking to what can be learned from countries like Austria.

Small minded politicians and much of the public who want to have their cake and eat it, leave the country always racing to catch up with standards thankfully set by the reviled bureaucrats in Brussels, where there is claimed to be a “democratic deficit.”

Of course, we are blind to the deficits under our noses.

We had to be shamed by the EU and the contamination of the water supply to the city of Galway to get action on water quality.

It’s always the same old story: respond to a problem only when there is a crisis…sorry…I should say: a dire crisis.

Vienna has three incinerators according to an Irish Times report and one of them supplies more than a quarter of a million houses and over 5,000 industrial consumers with heating.

A total of 9 incinerators in Austria are only one aspect of a sophisticated waste management and recycling system.

In 2010, Austria will generate 78.1% of its electricity from renewable sources - - the highest in the EU - - compared with 13.2% in Ireland.

Forfás, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland Submission to the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government, April 2010

ESRI slams Gormley's gombeenism on incineration; Irish waste policy has “no underlying rationale”; Likely to impose “needless costs on.. economy"