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Opinion: The Poolbeg Incinerator makes little sense – we need to waste less and recycle more

Dublin City Councillors will be asked to support proceeding with the Poolbeg Incinerator this evening.

Claire Byrne

THIS EVENING DUBLIN City Councillors will be presented with a report on the Poolbeg Incinerator and they will be asked to support proceeding with it.

Not that our support or opposition makes a difference.

This will be an executive decision by the unelected City Manager, which renders the elected Dublin councillors powerless, and debate on the issue this evening token at best. In addition, we are being asked debate on a report without even being able to see the confidential information on which it is based.

The Poolbeg Incinerator was first proposed in 1996. The Green Party have been opposed to plans to develop a giant waste incinerator even before it was decided that the plant should be located in the heart of Dublin Bay. Many of the reasons why we opposed it then are still relevant, and perhaps even more so now.

While I understand that the costs and revenues are projected, there is a vast disparity between the €30.2 million and €153.3 million proposed as a potential return on investment by the councils.

‘Bit of a gamble’

All of this seems like a bit of a gamble, especially when you consider how far €120 million could go towards tackling the housing and homeless crises in Dublin. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be the same uncertainty on the conveniently round figure of €100 million in costs should it be abandoned.

It has also become very clear this is not Dublin’s incinerator, this is now a national waste management facility. All the figures referenced in the supporting documents are national figures.

Dublin alone cannot possibly create enough waste to feed the incinerator, with 550,000 tonnes required annually. The reports make clear that, within 10 years, this plant will have to burn more than half of Ireland’s residual waste to even be marginally viable. This was supposed to be a facility to manage Dublin’s waste. Questions about compliance at a national level now need to be answered.

Call for transparency 

The report highlights that under the new revised agreement, the Dublin Local Authorities (DLAs) will be financially liable for“partial” funding of 58%, should the operators not reach a certain threshold of waste incinerated.

Who decides that threshold, what the threshold will eventually be, and what the potential costs might be to the DLAs, has yet to be clarified. And given that the council no longer have responsibility for waste collection, I am curious about how they plan to meet that obligation.

There is also nothing in the report that explains how the council plans to deal with the number of waste trucks travelling through Dublin to the facility daily. We’re still waiting for any detail on the “district heating scheme” that is supposed to burnish the incinerator’s environmental credentials.

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Dublin residents 

Also, how this will impact on the cost of disposing of household and commercial waste has yet to be clarified. At the very least, the people of Ringsend, Sandymount, and indeed the rest of Dublin, deserve to know the impacts this facility will have on them both environmentally and economically.

This proposal was developed almost 20 years ago. We have moved on. As a country we have transformed our approach to waste management. The efforts of Irish citizens, backed up by national and European policy, have quickly brought our recycling rate from effectively zero to 40%. This is the sustainable waste management road we need to stay on, creating a society where we waste less and recycle more, not introducing solutions that incentivise wasting to feed an incinerator that makes little economic and environmental sense.

Government policy 

There have been many opportunities to stop this project at a national level. Fine Gael reversed the waste policy direction undertaken by the Green Party, including scrapping our proposed incineration levy – a measure the European Commission agrees can help support  more sustainable waste management options. This is no surprise, as Fine Gael have always been proponents of this project (at least outside Dublin Bay South). But where this project fits in with Labour’s “Zero Waste” policy is another matter altogether. The spotlight is now firmly on Labour’s Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly.

The scale of the facility is wrong for Dublin and the location is wrong for Ireland.

This is an executive decision that will change the face of effective waste management in Ireland for decades to come, at even further costs to householders, and we as councillors, and the people of Ireland, seem powerless to stop it in a democratic society.

 Claire Byrne is the Green Party councillor for Pembroke – South Dock. Follow her on twitter at @CByrneGreen

Read: Dublin City councillors vote to scrap Poolbeg plan>

Read: Dublin City Council spent almost €200k a month on Poolbeg consultancy fees>

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