Waste: More than just a local issue

Most of us will have heard of the acronym, Nimby — ‘not in my backyard’. It refers to those who object to having utilities, pylons, social housing, and much more located anywhere near where they live. It’s typically considered and meant to be a derogatory term.

There are surely those who object spuriously, or who have nothing better to do, or who object for the sake of objecting or, even worse still, object on the basis that they might get something just ‘to go away’.

However, the vast majority of folks has genuine concerns about the specific issue to hand.

Oftentimes though it’s not easy to distinguish which is which.

There are specific words that are sometimes tactically used that are like red rags to bulls. Incineration is one such word together with its sister word incinerator.

Generally speaking, the companies that supply and operate these facilities refer to them as waste to energy facilities.

I mean who could be against anything that actually takes the millions of tonnes of waste we create every year and turns it into energy.

It seems to press all of the right buttons.

There will be no more landfill. There will be no more need to ship hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste every year to foreign shores.

No more potential pollution of the ground in sensitive environments. We could see the virtual elimination of terrible odours and unsightly waste mounds.

What could be better?

Earlier this week the oral hearings started into Indaver’s latest efforts to build a waste to energy plant in Ringaskiddy.

In Cork, it’s labeled as an incinerator. So we’re starting off on the wrong foot.

Immediately, we think of large unsightly dirty facilities spewing out dirty noxious black smoke into the air. Hundreds of people turning up at the event to protest is a testament to that.

That there are dirty badly managed facilities is sometimes the case. However, there are lots of waste to energy facilities that are efficiently run.

Copenhagen has one such that appears to look anything but a facility that would or could pump out poisonous fumes and dioxins.

It is claimed that it is in fact totally clean and meets all of the very high standards that apply in Denmark, including those of architectural aesthetics.

The company in the headlines in Cork, Indaver, operates one such facility immediately adjacent to the town of Duleek in Co Meath and it also claims that it meets all the required criteria and standards.

Our fear of these facilities is based on our experiences.

Time and again we learn of companies, here and elsewhere, randomly polluting the atmosphere. We also know that just because the smoke is white does not mean it’s clean.

Sure, regular statutory checks and inspections are a prerequisite but our experience tells us that negative information is withheld, stories are altered and results are adjusted.

People conclude that all is rosy in the garden.

Our experience tells us that companies do all they can to reduce costs and increase profits.

Unfortunately, our experience also tells us that we cannot rely on government, public representatives or local authorities to act on our behalf and protect our interests and, more importantly, our health.

Yet, there is one fundamental issue that we must deal with. It’s not just the multinational manufacturing companies or chemical or pharmaceutical firms that create waste.

We all do and then most of us stick it in the appropriate bin and pay for it to be taken away. So does that mean that the job is done? Not quite.

Given the volume of waste we generate, ensuring we have the appropriate processes in place to eliminate that waste can be reasonably deemed to be strategically important.

Sticking it into holes in the ground is not the answer, nor is putting it on ships for someone else in another country to deal with.

It is incumbent on our government to strategically plan where infrastructure should go. Unfortunately, the government here has failed again and again to do so and that is why we now have an issue in Ringaskiddy and in Dublin.

Yet, a solution will have to be found. The issue of how we deal with mountains of waste will not go away on its own.


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