Seven North London councils funding a huge new incinerator that will undermine climate action

This week the North London Waste Authority, comprised of councillors from Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest is set to take a decisive step towards building a gigantic new waste incinerator to replace the existing incinerator on the North Circular Road in Edmonton. But residents of those boroughs are mainly completely unaware of the enviromental and financial threat that this project represents.

The new incinerator, paid for by the seven boroughs, will be hugely expensive. It is massively oversized for the amount of "residual" waste that the boroughs will be producing. It will be burning potentially recyclable or compostable materials. Though it will be producing heat and electricity, it will be doing so mainly by burning fossil fuels - plastic - at a time when there is an urgent need to to phase out technologies that emit greenhouse gases. Its existence will be a disincentive towards progress towards a circular economy. To feed its enormous appetite, waste will be imported into north London, meaning many additional lorry movements around the North Circular through heavily populated areas. Alternatively, should a future government bring in serious measures to tackle climate change, it may turn into a stranded asset/white elephant.

People concerned about the project are asking residents of the seven boroughs to write to their councillors today or tomorrow - before more money is committed on 24th June.

I could go on, but instead I refer you to a large amount of information on the Palmers Green Community website (including links to other sources of information and some forum posts arguing in favour of the incinerator).


Please note that the following text has been edited after I was contacted by Extinction Rebellion. It seems that the person who posted this to Facebook had changed it slightly, adding some inaccurate information.

Finally, something posted on Facebook this week by a member of Extinction Rebellion

XR and other groups are aiming to persuade the board of the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to pause and review their plans to build a new incinerator in Edmonton. Time is running out because major contracting for the incinerator is due to begin at the end of this month, which will dramatically increase sunk costs (which are currently very small).

We at XR hope that the board of the NLWA, whose next meeting is on 25 June, will pause and review the incinerator plans so that North London may benefit from a more sustainable solution. Our most recent analysis yields worrying findings: (there is a lot of this you are advised to stay with it!)

overcapacity: In view of the London Plan's 65% recycling target for 2030, the planned incinerator is three times too large for North London's needs. It will be 30% larger than the current incinerator although waste generation has been falling since 2015 (counter to the NLWA’s projections) and although up to 85% of the waste that is currently incinerated could be recycled. Waste will need to be shipped into North London from farther afield to ensure the facility operates at capacity.

carbon emissions: Over the next 50 years, the facility would produce as much CO2 as all of London does in two full years. Despite legally binding national carbon budgets and local climate emergency declarations:

the incinerator will release 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year—this at a time when IPCC scientists are saying that "climate sensitivity" to CO2 has probably been vastly underestimated;

the shipping of waste into North London will produce additional carbon emissions and road congestion;

the construction of this massive facility will release large amounts of embodied carbon emissions; and

the incinerator is to heat homes through "energy-from-waste", which is far more carbon-intensive than alternatives such as grid-based heat pumps.

air pollution: The incinerator will release ultra-fine particulate matter (PM1 and PM0.1) that cannot be filtered from the air we breathe and that have been linked to higher vulnerability to infectious diseases such as Covid-19 as well as higher disease and mortality rates.

failure to meet city and national recycling targets: North London's recycling rate has decreased from 33% to 30% since 2015, missing the targets of 45% by 2015 and 50% by 2020 by a wide margin. As a result, the NLWA burns at least 320,000 tonnes of recyclable and compostable waste every year. Incineration has consistently been linked to low recycling rates.

failure to achieve value for money: At a time of great financial insecurity, the facility will cost taxpayers £1.2 billion, money that could be spent to boost recycling, reduce waste, create green jobs, and place North London on a path to reach the Mayor's carbon neutrality target by 2030.

lack of public scrutiny: The NLWA conducted a public consultation in only two of North London’s seven boroughs and failed to inform residents that the facility would burn waste from outside of North London.

It may be of interest that:

the Guardian reports: UK has legal duty to review air pollution targets, say lawyers: Letter cites growing evidence of link between dirty air and Covid-19 infections and deaths

Please see below for additional details and let me know if you'd like any other information.on behalf of XR Barnet, XR Camden, XR Enfield, XR Hackney, XR Haringey, XR Islington, and XR Waltham Forest, with the support of XR London

Further reading:

initial letter to all North London Cllrs from XR (11 March 2020)

XR rebuttal of NLWA claims (26 May 2020)

XR summary of rebuttal findings (26 May 2020, pasted below)

UKWIN VfM review recommendations (May 2020)

Recycling and waste generation

· Of the 580,000 tonnes of waste that are incinerated every year, 55%–85% could be recycled or composted. This means that the NLWA is burning at least 320,000 tonnes of recyclable and compostable waste every year.

· The NLWA has consistently failed to meet national and city recycling targets by a significant margin although it has a statutory duty to “have regard” to national and city strategies. Recycling and composting rates have been decreasing for more than five years—from 33% in 2013/14 to 30% in 2018/19—despite targets of 45% by 2015 and 50% by 2020. Between 2014/15 and 2018/19, the amounts of waste that were recycled and composted decreased by 6% and 14%, respectively.

· Between 2014 and 2019, the NLWA spent nearly five times more on the new incinerator (£11.8 million) than on promoting recycling and waste prevention (£2.5 million).

· The NLWA predicted an increase in the total generation of waste for North London, but the amount has been declining since 2015/16. By 2018/19, the seven boroughs were producing about 150,000 tonnes less waste than predicted and, accordingly, 75,000 tonnes less “residual” waste (waste that cannot be recycled or composted).

· Despite decreasing waste generation and the fact that most of North London’s waste could be recycled or composted, the planned incinerator’s operational capacity—700,000 tonnes—is 30% greater than that of the current incinerator. That unjustifiable overcapacity exposes residents to the risk of carbon-intensive waste shipping from outside the seven boroughs. It also lock councils and communities into a system that requires a certain amount of waste to burn each year, which may act as a disincentive to improving recycling rates.

· National environmental protection regulations require organisations that handle waste to take all reasonable steps to apply the waste hierarchy, which very clearly puts prevention and recycling ahead of energy-from-waste.

Public engagement

· The NLWA conducted a public consultation on the project in 2014–15, in only two of the seven boroughs.

· During the limited public consultation, the NLWA failed to inform residents that the facility would burn business waste and waste from outside of North London.

Carbon emissions and carbon intensity

· To date, the NLWA has avoided citing total projected carbon emissions of the planned incinerator. It has also refrained from explicitly disputing XR’s figure of 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Instead, the NLWA uses questionable accounting and undefined expressions such as “climate impact”, which create the impression that the incinerator will secure a “carbon saving” and release only 28,000 tonnes—rather than 700,000 tonnes—of CO2 per year. In its rebuttal, XR provides a step-by-step breakdown of the NLWA’s misleading carbon calculations.

· The fossil carbon intensity of incineration is more than twice that of energy produced by combined cycle gas turbines, and only slightly less than that of energy generated by burning coal. Since plastics—more than 99% of which are made from fossil fuels—account for about 50% of the calorific value of the Edmonton incinerator’s feedstock, its fossil carbon intensity is correspondingly high.

· The UK currently draws 40% of its grid electricity from renewable sources such as offshore wind—significantly more than five years ago, when plans were drawn up for the new incinerator. As a result, heat pumps have become a substantially lower-carbon solution than incineration-based domestic heating systems.

Air quality and health risks

· Incinerator filters appear to be relatively effective at removing some particulate matter (PM), namely PM2.5 and PM10, but the opposite is true of ultra-fine particles, such as PM0.1 and PM1, which are particularly hazardous to human health, especially in communities around incinerators, but are “too small to be filtered and are thus emitted directly into the air that we breathe”. Scientific research show that “over 90% of the emitted particles are ultra-fine particles” and analysis of fibre filter retention has revealed “filter efficiency as low as 5%, compared to 100% for particle sizes [greater than] 1 micron”. Studies have consistently demonstrated links between PM exposure and adverse health outcomes, including increased rates of respiratory and cardiovascular illness, hospitalisations, and premature mortality.

· Whereas other routes of waste disposal and energy generation are taxed and thus go some way to compensate for the public health costs arising from CO2 emissions, the unpaid public health costs associated with fossil CO2 from incineration must ultimately be picked up by the taxpayer.


Cross-party opposition to incineration:

Dr Alan Whitehead, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change:

“We are at a turning point. The future is net zero; it cannot be incineration.”

Source: Westminster Hall debate, 11 February 2020

Jane Hunt, Conservative MP for Loughborough"

"A moratorium should be placed on the building of new incinerators. That moratorium should be extended to those that have been granted planning permission but not yet built […] because they are a barrier to reducing emissions and achieving a circular economy."

Source: Westminster Hall debate, 11 February 2020

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath

"We need to put all our efforts into net zero solutions. […] an incineration tax would ensure that we do not just divert all our waste to incinerators."

Source: Westminster Hall debate, 11 February 2020


signed by Jeremy Corbyn on the 12 July 2012:

"That this House notes the European Parliament's adoption by a large majority, on 24 May 2012, of a resolution on a Resource Efficient Europe, which commits to working towards a zero waste strategy and the Parliament's call on the Commission to bring forward legislative proposals, by the end of 2014, to ban both landfill and the incineration of recyclable and compostable waste in Europe, by 2020; further notes growing evidence of incinerator overcapacity in the UK by 2015, which seriously risks harming recycling performance, as has already happened in some European countries; further notes UK figures showing a steady and significant decline in residual waste since the middle of the last decade - even allowing for the economic recession - and rising recycling rates; acknowledges the impact that these developments will have on the economic case for, and environmental sustainability of, mass-burn incinerators in the UK within a decade; and calls on the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, and Communities and Local Government, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to work together to examine how government policy can positively facilitate the pursuit of zero waste strategies, and to report to Parliament on their findings as a matter of urgency, as many local communities across the country are currently opposing their local waste authorities' costly, environmentally damaging and unsustainable plans to build mass-burn incineration plants."

Mayor Sadiq Khan:

"London’s air is a toxic air health crisis and the last thing we need, in our modern green global city is another harmful waste-burning incinerator polluting our city. Emissions from incinerators are bad for our health, bad for our environment and bad for our planet. Instead of granting permission for an unnecessary new incinerator that will raise pollution levels in the boroughs of Bexley and Havering, the Government should focus on boosting recycling rates, reducing the scourge of plastic waste and tackling our lethal air. I am urging ministers to reject this proposal."


Shadow Waste & Resources Minister, Sandy Martin:

“I don’t believe incineration is the correct end destination for the majority of our waste and what we need to do is designate correct end destinations to make sure that EPR is going to those correct end destinations.”


"One of the most disappointing points of the strategy is that it continues to support incineration. “Energy from Waste” is a form of deception – even high calorific plastic is 7 times less efficient as a 'fuel' than the fossil fuels it is made from would have been if they had been used to generate electricity directly. Everything going into an incinerator represents far more embedded energy than can be recovered by burning it. For many materials, including plastics, much of that energy can be saved if it is recycled. And there is no acknowledgement of the possibility of pollution from incinerator emissions, nor any programme to try to find out what those emissions might be"

Source: Our waste, our resources: Labour's Shadow Minister for Waste & Recycling responds to the Government's Waste Strate

‘Push waste reduction’, urges Shadow Minister -

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Replies to This Discussion

The North London Waste Authority board will be meeting on Thursday afternoon (online) and there will be delegations from people opposing the incinerator. You can watch online.



Why is burning rubbish and recyclables considered a good option?

Why ship rubbish from other boroughs? Don't we have enough here?

Is recycling still a viable alternative? 

What's a better alternative? 

Why are they burning things that can be recycled? I've heard that recycling is considered contaminated if it's not washed. Is this the case? 


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