Yesterday’s decision by the EPA to grant an incineration license to Irish Cement is opposed by the Green Party. This issue has been running for some years now. In 2016 the Green Party were the first to raise concerns about Irish Cement’s proposal. Back then there was a broad welcome for the project. Local media articles welcomed the news that ‘alternative fuels’ would be burned in the kilns instead of fossil fuels, and some 90 jobs would be protected.
Our opposition was guided by the waste management hierarchy, which is set out in EU Law. It can be expressed as follows:
Try and prevent waste in the first instance
If you can’t prevent it, recycle it
If you can’t recycle, treat it thermally, i.e. burn it to recover energy
If you can’t thermally treat it, then dispose of it, i.e. landfill
Green Party policy is that this waste management hierarchy should be followed. During the planning stage of the process, the An Bord Pleanála inspector acknowledged the EU waste management hierarchy in his report but ignored it in his recommendation, allowing permission to Irish Cement to go straight to stage 3 of the hierarchy on the justification that the Southern Waste Management Plan permits thermal treatment. In the proposed list of waste to be incinerated at Mungret there is a huge amount of recyclable material including used tyres, animal faces, urine and manure, wood and bark, sawdust, wood shavings, paper and cardboard waste. According to the EU waste management hierarchy none of this should be going into an incinerator; it should be recycled.
The An Bord Pleanála inspector ruled that hazardous material should not be burned on the site and he struck off the list anything that mentioned ‘hazardous’ in his description. However, he left red mud on the list, presumably because it does not mention the word hazardous in its description even though it contains mercury, arsenic and a whole plethora of other heavy metals and presumably chemicals used in the extraction of the ore from the mud.
The system of giving planning permission for a project like this is wrong in that An Bord Pleanála must consider it only from a planning perspective, i.e. how it fits with the area plan, and it is not qualified or tasked to give a ruling on the environmental damage aspect. It is only following the grant of planning permission that the environmental aspect is considered by the EPA, and they decide on whether or not to give a license and under what conditions. By right both the environmental and planning considerations should be looked at up front and simultaneously when reaching a decision on whether or not to grant planning permission.
By ignoring the Waste Management Hierarchy we are at real risk of creating a monster that needs to be fed, and efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle are fundamentally undermined. We are in effect creating an incentive to produce waste.
Energy from Waste Incineration (EFI) is done all over Europe, and while not ideal, it can be done relatively safely. A major issue with the Irish Cement proposal is their track record at their plant in Mungret. Nearby residents frequently report dust accumulations due to ’blow outs’ at the plant. Indeed, Irish Cement has been successfully prosecuted and fined for such breaches of its license on a number of occasions. Added to that there is a very minimal monitoring regime in place to identify when these occur. Irish Cement must self-report any instances when it fails to comply with its license. Furthermore, air quality monitoring by the Council, EPA and HSE in the Limerick area is not sufficient to give us a clear picture.
Notwithstanding our misgivings about the process that led to Irish Cement getting a license to burn waste, this is also very much a matter of confidence, or lack of, in the company given its past record.