THAT’S RUBBISH: Council considers energy from waste facility, group opposes incinerator

Photo of an energy to waste facility in Japan.

Susanna Freymark

 What a load of rubbish. We create rubbish, lots of it and then have to work out what to do with it.

One idea being touted for Casino is an energy from waste facility that uses household rubbish as fuel for generating power, much like power stations use coal, oil or gas.

The burning of rubbish waste heats water and the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity.

One of these facilities is being considered for Richmond Valley as part of the State Government’s Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan and NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement.

Sounds like an ideal situation ‑ our rubbish being used for power instead of going to landfill. As with most waste solutions, there are issues.

We create a lot of rubbish that goes into landfill. Photo: Contributed

 A group ‑ Residents Against the Richmond Valley Incinerator has formed in opposition to the proposed energy incinerator.

Bentley’s Liz Stops said she was shocked and angry about the state government’s plan and fears the region will be stigmatised by a polluting incinerator.

The plan bans incinerators in Sydney because of serious air pollution concerns yet sees fit to dump Sydney’s waste and associated toxic pollution in Casino.

“As a grandmother I am also concerned for everyone’s grandchildren, and for vulnerable residents who may develop serious health effects from exposure to incinerator air pollution emissions.”

Council’s general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the misconception came from the word ‘incinerator’.

People think about incinerators from 20 years ago, he said.

Technology had improved and at a modern waste facility, “nothing comes out of the chimney”, he said.

We also needed to think about how we currently deal with our rubbish. We dig a hole and put it in the ground.

“It creates methane and leachate contaminating our waterways.”

For the past three years, Richmond Valley Council has been looking for a “modern solution” to waste.

Some Richmond Valley rubbish is still transported to Queensland.

“We need a solution in our own backyard,” Mr Macdonald said.

There were thousands of energy from waste facilities across Asia and Europe and one was being built in Western Australia, he said.

Mr Macdonald stressed they were open to all waste solutions.

If the energy from waste facility went ahead, it could be sited at the new industrial estate at Reynolds Rd.

Council delegates including Mr Macdonald and mayor Robert Mustow visited Japan in 2019 to see how their waste to energy solutions worked.

The Energy from Waste report by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer said the requirement for 100% compliance with air emission limits would be retained and checked by the EPA.

“The emissions data be made available publicly through an online portal,” the report stated.

This may not be enough to satisfy the opposition group who sought advice from the National Toxics Network.

Network co-ordinator Jo Immig said, “no matter how much you dress incinerators up as ‘state of the art technology’ and ‘worlds’ best practice’, the fact is incinerators create dangerous air pollutants and toxic fly ash that needs to be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill.”

“The NSW Government must go back to the drawing board and deliver genuine zero waste policies that incentivize re-design, re-use and recycling which are the foundations of a real circular economy. Burning plastic in incinerators for ‘energy’ is no better than burning coal,” Ms Immig said.

Mr Macdonald said the council was keeping an open mind to solutions on recycling to residual waste and other solutions for green waste.

With eight other councils, we are testing the private market for solutions.

As general manager, his focus was to look at the science and what government regulators require.

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