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Are waste managers simply burning waste?

Andrew Montford, GWPF

In the wake of Mikko Paunio’s fascinating GWPF report on waste management, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the impact of the Chinese government’s decision to ban waste imports from other countries. This has given the UK waste management a big headache. We know that exports have been diverted elsewhere in the Far East, but it is interesting to consider what other escape routes exist.

One possible approach that the more unscrupulous firms might take is to simply set fire to waste. This would be a major environmental issue, as such “bonfires”  (shouldn’t we call them “malfires” or “hellfires”?) only partially combust the waste, and therefore emit considerable quantities of toxins, including major “nasties” like dioxins. (This is very different to the high-temperature incinerators that are used across Europe in energy-from-waste plants, which are extraordinarily clean).

Fires at recycling centres have certainly been commonplace this year, with some people suggesting that there is one every day at the moment. My monitoring of Twitter suggests that one a day is overdoing it somewhat, but it’s not far off that figure.

In addition I’ve obtained the official Home Office figures for waste and recycling fires. Unfortunately these are not up to date, only currently running up to the end of 2017, and therefore predating the Chinese waste import ban. They look like this

There was a total of 175 fires recorded for the year – roughly one every two days. In view of my observations above about the environmental impact of waste “bonfires”, this already looks like an major environmental issue. And anecdotally we are already seeing a significant increase this year. To be certain we’ll have to await further data.

In the meantime, expect silence from environmentalists.