The history of Guernsey’s solid waste debate and where we are now

February 5th, 2010 by Scott Ogier

As the waste debate draws near and the key issues threaten to be lost amidst the welter of information and disinformation perhaps a brief recap of history will help put our current situation into perspective.

In 2003, the States of Guernsey voted to proceed with a 70,000 tonne incinerator but in 2004 I brought a requete which halted the process while an independent investigation took place. The subsequent panel of enquiry believed more should be done to encourage the minimisation and recycling of waste.

The States of Deliberation decided to restart its procurement process.

Unfortunately – and what leads us here today – is that States didn’t in the interim support the measures we believed were necessary to change our long term waste strategy, measures such as; exporting to Jersey to buy time to drive down our waste stream, household collection for dry recyclables, anaerobic digestion for food waste or a Materials Recovery Facility for industrial and commercial waste, none of that was implemented. None of the measures to really drive down our residual waste stream were implemented.

Without source separation, society’s waste is channeled into a single stream which needs to be handled. To handle that single stream we need a large plant. Separating out our waste means no one single large plant is required.

Without that separation one is merely left discussing what sort of large plant we will have, which is where we are.

The States of Deliberation has been busy constantly on this issue since the early 1990s; there are two trains of thought, one a waste separation and minimisation camp and the other a collect-it-all-and-deal-with-it camp. The latter has always had the upper hand. The segregate and separate camp has lost nearly every battle. We lost kerbside twice in the last year alone. The States has made its views very clearly known.

Our current situation, i.e. having this plant as a solution, is a result of the ‘collect it all and deal with it’ mentality which is still in the majority as shown by the recent rejection, twice, of kerbside collection of recyclables and the failure to explore micro incineration as put forward by the People’s Panel.

As well as rejecting household collection of recyclables the States has also turned many other options down over recent years:

In 2004 we turned down a 70,000 tonne incinerator.

In 2006 the States declined to go with export to Jersey to buy us time to work on reducing our waste stream.

Deputy de Lisle’s and my plan for a smaller waste stream of 30,000 – 50,000 tonnes was similarly defeated in 2006 and the States stuck with 45,000 – 70,000 tonnes. Ironically this 37,000 – 57,000 tonne solution is not far off where we wanted to be.

In 2007 the States of Deliberation failed to install Deputy Dorey’s Materials Recovery Plant to drive down industrial and commercial waste.

In 2008 this current Assembly barely allowed the Energy Report to scrape through and noted it rather than endorsing and supporting it. The work streams remain almost entirely unfunded which shows how low the environment is on the agenda.

Finally in 2008 this current Assembly refused to pause the procurement process to explore waste minimisation and a smaller residual plant as recommended by the Waste Disposal People’s Panel report.

In May 2009 the States rejected kerbside recycling. In September 2009 the States rejected kerbside recycling again.

These are the key milestones and debates which gave the States of Deliberation an opportunity to pursue a waste minimization strategy. The States decided to follow none of them.

Personally I think that we should be source separating our waste; we should have kerbside collections; our residual waste should be driven down and our recovery and recycling of raw materials should be higher.

The last States and this States do not agree however.

The reason we lost those debates is this; when we stopped the last incinerator we had an uneasy coalition of deputies opposed to it for various reasons.

When we tried to rebuild the waste strategy however, not everyone was on the same page. Everyone started voting according to those various reasons. It was easy to unite to oppose the incinerator but everyone’s idea of where we should go FROM there was different.

Those who opposed the incinerator on financial grounds, did not support kerbside recycling on financial grounds.

Those who opposed the incinerator on environmental grounds would not support export of waste to Jersey for environmental reasons.

Those who opposed the incinerator on health grounds would not support micro-incineration due to health concerns.

Given that split and the inability to compromise, everything which could have taken us away from a single plant to handle our waste was rejected, leaving only the option of a single plant once more, albeit a smaller, cheaper plant.

We have been good at destroying and poor at building.

There are some supporters of Deputy Kuttelwascher’s Requete who did not support kerbside, did not support a waste minimization strategy. There are some who refused to pause the waste plant procurement to investigate shipment to Jersey or micro-incineration. They urged PSD to proceed with the tender.

So we can see that once again we have an uneasy coalition of political views which could starburst away from each other as soon as the Requete is past leaving us with no waste solution once again but also no consensus on what to replace it with.

If the Deputy Kuttelwascher Requete succeeds in its aims – and its aims are to examine alternatives in the hope of finding something better and going out, therefore, to procure this ‘better solution’ – that would result in a further tendering exercise. By the time that has finished we will have spent 11 years since 2004, using over £50 million pounds worth of landfill life.

The supporters of Deputy Mary Lowe’s Amendment need to be extremely careful. It could be passed by a coalition of Deputies some of whom wish to separate, minimise and divert waste through kerbside collections and a zero waste style approach while others may just want to have another large plant like the gasification plant we saw recently or Rodney Brouard’s waste processor. If those two factions unite and throw Suez out there is no guarantee they will be able to agree on what to replace Suez with.

This Assembly has already shown, by its actions, that a rejection of this plant could result in another five years of wasted debates and split voting. The Environmental credentials of the house are very poor and I have my doubts that we would win through to the levels of separation, segregation and minimisation necessary to move away from the single large plant.

That is why I supported this half size incinerator, not because it is where I want to be, but because the voting patterns of the last States and this one, dictated we have this kind of solution.

I am disappointed we have not done more to minimise and separate our waste stream but we have had numerous debates over the past five years and nearly every stone has been turned and unfortunately put back again in exactly the same position.

So, without taking steps to separate out recyclables and minimising the waste stream, it is inevitable that a large plant to deal with the larger amounts of residual waste would be required so it is no surprise that the waste industry have tendered for an Incinerator.

With this latest tender, as well as incineration, other viable technologies were permitted to tender, including modular, micro-incineration, mechanical heat treatment, gasification, pyrolisis, all forms of mechanical and biological treatment and all forms of heat treatment. All were permitted to tender. We received three tenders, two for incinerators, and one for a gasification unit. The Suez Environnement proposal was the cheapest and most environmentally friendly and at 37,000 tonnes had the smallest heat treatment unit. In fact it can operate down to 27,000 tonnes.

We have just gone through a tendering process where gasification plants could have tendered and did. Micro, modular incinerators could also have been tendered or waste processors could have tendered.

Why then, despite assurances of being able to handle our waste stream in a modular fashion and extremely cheaply did no one put forward these as a solution? At the incredibly cheap prices we hear being quoted they should have been run away winners. But no tenders were received, despite their being able to. We have no evidence that these newcomers would have been able to meet the standards expected of them in order to place a tender.

We pushed very hard to get our waste separated out and minimised but the decisions of the States have always favoured a residual plant approach, having a large plant dealing with all the waste produced. To stop now and tender for other big plant solutions when we have already gone out to tender in the last 24 months would be a farcical course of action.

We could stop the current waste strategy, go out to tender again and lower our standards, to say, you don’t need a couple of plants up and running for a couple of years so we can see how successful they are, in other words, you don’t need a proven track record, we are willing to take a risk on you. We would then see all sorts of new technologies vying to have their prototypes trialled on Guernsey, all sorts of salesmen promising to run it cheaper, better, faster – which was what we had after the cancelled incinerator in 2004. When it came to the crunch however, they were nowhere to be seen or worked out tens of millions of pounds more expensive.

The opinion of the States has been that it might be acceptable for a county such as Hampshire or Brittany to take a risk on technology which hasn’t been up and running successfully in a couple of places for a couple of years to prove itself. Hampshire can transport any waste to another one of their incinerators or to another county or to a landfill site. If Guernsey goes for unproved technology and it fails, we do not have the same luxuries on this small island as they do on the mainland or in the UK.

I hope I have demonstrated to readers who believe this current waste disposal plant is the idea of PSD that in fact it is the history of debates which has led us here, and that it is a States of Guernsey solution.

If they would take it, another alternative would of course be to export to Jersey. This would buy us time to seriously attack the waste stream and divert it to other destinations. But we have argued all this before and lost.

One thing is for sure, Deputies supporting the Requete or Amendments who have previously voted against waste minimisation or pause for investigation will now need to commit to those kinds of measures. It is a shame they are prepared to do that now at the last minute when we could have done with their support at earlier key stages.

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