Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Putting out the flames

Dozens of people were injured, including more than 40 police officers, during clashes which erupted in the town of Acerra, near Naples, on Sunday, according to a BBC report. A spokesman at a local hospital said 82 people had been treated for injuries, including the mayor of Acerra.

Nothing particularly unusual in that, you might think, except that clashes were over protesters trying to stop work on the construction of an incinerator.

Naples, according to the BBC, is in the throes of a crisis over how to dispose of waste in one of Italy's most densely populated regions. There has been sporadic unrest in the Naples area over the summer as hundreds of tons of garbage remained uncollected in the streets.

Furthermore, the unrest has not been confined to Accera. In June hundreds of demonstrators, protesting about plans for an incinerator in another town south of Naples, lay down on the railway tracks, blocking all railway links between central and southern Italy and Sicily for four days.

Officially, the story is that all available waste landfill sites around Naples are full and new incinerators are the only way to deal with the waste disposal crisis. But the real story is somewhat different. There is actually no shortage of landfill sites – what we are dealing with here is the fabled EU Landfill Directive, which effectively requires domestic waste to be incinerated.

Before putting these protests down to excitable Italians, consider for one moment what is in store for us here. To comply with the provisions of the Landfill Directive in the UK, the DETR has estimated that between 28 and 165 new incinerators (over and above the 10 currently in operation) will be needed, assuming incinerators with an average capacity of 200,000 tonnes of waste per year.

Furthermore, it is estimated that capital investment of between £1.4 and £6.9 billion will be required by 2016 to meet the targets of the Directive, with the government admitting that it has no idea where that investment funding will come from. there are also serious doubts as to whether so many incinerators could ever receive planning permission within the timescale required by the Directive, without direct intervention by government.

In order to meet meet its EU obligations, therefore, it seems almost certain that the government will have to over-ride planning laws, as it has already done with its wind farm programme and the notorious PPS22. Should this happen, the prospect of mass protests in these sceptred isles is by no means far-fetched.

Perversely, tomorrow has been declared by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) as the "Global Day of Action on Waste" aimed at countering the "continued obsession with incinerators", as a means of waste disposal. This will be "celebrated" by over 100 organisations and groups in 35 countries, but no more so than by groups in the Philippines where the use of incinerators has been banned, and in Taiwan, where opposition parties are fighting government proposals to build a "strategic ring" of six massive incinerators around the island.

The slogan of the global anti-incinerator campaigners is "putting out the flames", something which the EU had better pay heed to. Otherwise it will risk fanning the flames of civil unrest which may be somewhat less easy to extinguish than local demonstrations in Naples.

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