Protests grow over plans to extend capacity at controversial incinerator

Beddington Incinerator Pic: George Rex

Incinerator operator Viridor plan to burn thousands of tonnes more waste at the controversial Beddington Incinerator in Sutton, which could affect Croydon’s air quality.

The site is currently used to burn waste from boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership: Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton.

Data: London City Airport

Viridor have submitted an application to increase the amount of waste they are allowed to burn by 26 per cent. The proposed plan would mean Beddington would start burning 382,000 tonnes of waste a year, including rubbish driven in from other parts of the country.

South London Plume Plotter, which shows a prediction of the current amount of air pollution caused by emissions from the incinerator, displays high concentrations of oxides of nitrogen across areas of neighbouring Croydon on a regular basis.

Elliot Colburn, MP for Carshalton and Wallington, has recently set up a petition against Viridor’s plans to incinerate more waste. He said: “The Liberal Democrat-run Council approved the Beddington Incinerator and has sat by whilst things have escalated there.”

In a debate about incinerators in Parliament in 2020, he said: “Thanks to its complete incompetence, the incinerator is now an eyesore on the landscape that we can see from every single corner of the constituency.

“In 2018 alone, bearing in mind that it was not fully operational at the time, it pumped more than 21.5 million kg of CO2 into the local atmosphere.”

Sutton Council oppose Viridor’s plans. Councillor Manuel Abellan, Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “I am very disappointed about this application.

“On behalf of Sutton residents I will strongly oppose this application from Viridor. I will be contacting the Environment Agency who have the final say in the matter, to urge them to carry out a full public consultation before making any decisions about the application.”

The site is known as an Energy Recovery Facility – a facility that burns non-recyclable waste at high temperatures, producing energy that is then distributed to homes in the form of heat and electricity.

Viridor claims the process is “extremely efficient, robust and safe”. However, concerns over air quality issues as a result of the incinerator’s output in Croydon and beyond have sparked numerous protests since the site was first in development back in 2015.

Stop the incinerator campaigners, May 2015 Pic: Emmet Simpson

Jim Duffy, who has been helping the Stop the South London Incinerator campaign against the incinerator since it was first proposed in 2012, told ELL: “A year ago Viridor applied for a 15 per cent increase to 347,000 tonnes per annum, which was agreed by the Environment Agency. The EA told me they must abide by a government imposed ‘Growth clause’ which prevents them hindering the economic growth of industries they regulate.

“I’m concerned that the pollution spewing from the chimneys will harm the health of residents, especially those downwind in north Croydon and beyond. Infants, the elderly and those with health and breathing conditions are likely to be most affected. Air quality is very poor locally especially in windless weather.

“We don’t need an incinerator. Wales has put a moratorium on new incinerators and gets good recycling rates. It’s possible to get an 85 per cent recycling rate without incineration as achieved in Treviso in Italy.”

ELL asked people in Croydon how they feel about Beddington Incinerator potentially burning more waste:

Ben Thomas Pic: Lee Urquhart

Benjamin Thomas, 41, a writer from Upper Norwood said: “I see pictures of the incinerator plume online often and I am appalled. Upper Norwood used to market itself as the place where you could escape the foul air of London, and now I believe that thanks to this incinerator, it is as appalling here as anywhere else in the city.

“I’d really rather they didn’t burn more; I’d rather they didn’t burn anything at all honestly. I’d rather there was a lot more effort put into finding ways of recycling or – if they can’t be recycled – reusing the materials in some way, rather than just incinerating them and polluting the planet.”

Peter Roberts Pic: Lee Urquhart

Peter Roberts, 52, a site manager originally from Norbury said: “I spent most of my life here and visit often so have heard a lot about this Sutton incinerator thing, but I don’t think it’s all that bad- it’s a better alternative to landfill isn’t it?

“Landfill sites around the world are a health hazard to humans and animals, so burning rubbish could prove a better option for us and the planet. More of that, in my opinion, isn’t a bad thing. I’m all for it personally.”

Sharon Whittingham Pic: Lee Urquhart

Sharon Whittingham, 52, a teaching assistant from Thornton Heath said: “I haven’t done much research, but I’m pretty sure that the incinerator isn’t a good thing for us here in Croydon. I don’t understand how burning rubbish is supposed to be better than sending it to the tip.

“I’m concerned about how it could affect my health, honestly. If they start burning even more, well… I don’t want to think about it. Croydon is the worst area in London to live if you have asthma, I can’t imagine the pollution is helping.”

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