John Ahern was speaking on day two of the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing in Cork into Indaver’s application to build two waste-to-energy incinerators, burning municipal and industrial waste, in Cork Harbour.
Next year the EU’s landfill directive comes into force and Ireland will have to reduce its landfill levels to 970,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste. However, out of the 1.77m tonnes of waste produced in 2006, less than 400,000 were recycled.
“The clock is ticking … The members and management of Cork local authorities, just like every other local authority in the country, have to grapple with this challenge against the backdrop of diminishing finances.
“The prospect of additional costs on consumers, the curtailing of local services or both will be costly and regressive. Such a scenario can be avoided however … by building modern waste infrastructure,” Mr Ahern said.
Waste-to-energy, he suggested, could be employed along with waste prevention, recycling, MBT and landfill usage.
Mr Ahern said the Cork city and county council waste management plans have limitations — the Bottlehill landfill can’t take all the varieties of waste produced in Cork and the planned Material and Biological Treatment facility will still leave 35%-45% of the waste it processes.
Thirdly, all types of waste can’t be environmentally recycled.
“No one from Indaver is saying that incineration is the solution. It is part of an integrated waste solution. For instance, bicycles have a role to play in transport policy, but you can’t cycle to New York on a bicycle,” he added.
He also appealed to the public concern about cleaning up the most toxic site in Ireland, Haulbowline Island, which is adjacent to the proposed facility.
“Another immediate benefit would be an ability to address the waste legacy that is the old Irish Steel facility. Haulbowline Island has contaminated soils and sludges. Our facility offers a solution. This problem can be resolved — safely, efficiently and at an affordable cost.”
Mr Ahern said that giving the green light to the incinerators would help reduce business costs associated with exporting waste for recycling or energy recovery elsewhere, making them more competitive.
Exporting waste or burying waste, he added, was “dead money”.
“By burying, its intrinsic value is lost and local environments are compromised. By exporting waste, we not only lose a potential local fuel supply, we hand over that fuel at minimal gain to someone else,” he said.
The oral hearing at the Cork Airport International Hotel is expected to continue for at least another two weeks. The oral hearing received up to 280 submissions, many of them objecting to the incinerators on health and safety grounds.