Frequently Asked Questions
But aren't waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerators a sustainable idea? Won't it reduce carbon emissions?
Unfortunately not. For every portion of waste burnt, up to 5% of the waste will remain as highly toxic fly ash and one-third of the material as waste ash. Like nuclear waste, the fly ash needs to be stored in containment cells. The waste produced by incineration is far more toxic than the original waste prior to burning, and much more toxic than waste managed through landfill or recycling processes (See source 9).
Incineration using recommended fuels does not reduce landfill greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic buried in landfill creates zero emissions - plastic burnt by incineration creates highly toxic pollutants, dangerous emissions and harmful carbon outputs. Waste incineration only reduces landfill emissions when it burns organic matter that could more properly be composted and managed by sustainable waste management practices (See source 5).
WTE incineration is no longer recognised by the European Union as a sustainable method of waste management. Waste incineration is only recommended for developing nations where landfill sites and inappropriate waste management pose a greater risk to human health than the risks posed by WTE incineration. Emissions from landfill can be better managed by anaerobic & aerobic composting (check specifics), waste reduction, reuse and recycling, and implementation
of a circular economy. A circular economy focuses on designing a product so that it can become a new product at the end of its lifespan. With each product designed in this way, products then have an almost infinite lifespan, dramatically reducing the need for landfill waste. NSW is currently introducing circular economy principles.
WTE incineration also does not contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions. Studies have shown that waste-to-energy incinerators produce higher levels of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity generated than coal-fired power plants. They also contribute much higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions comparative to composting and recycling material (See source 4). WTE incinerators recover very little energy from the resources they burn - recycling plastics saves much more energy overall (See source 8). WTE incinerators are also extremely costly to establish, costing approximately ten times what an equivalent solar energy farm would cost to establish to generate the same amount of electricity (See source 8).
But what about air quality? Veolia says the incinerator will operate to the world's most stringent air quality standards, surely nothing toxic will be emitted, right?
Wrong. Although Veolia have stated to the community that the incinerator will meet the "world's most stringent air quality standards", the standards:
Allow Veolia's proposed incinerator to emit toxic particulate matter into the atmosphere in amounts that are recognised as hazardous to human health. For example, dioxins are recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "highly toxic" to humans, and the cause of reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage, hormone interference, and cancer. The WHO advises that the only safe way to manage dioxins is to eliminate them from our environment and prevent them from infiltrating our food chain (See source 3). Veolia's incinerator will expel dioxins every time it burns plastic, which is a main source of incinerator fuel. There is no continuous monitoring requirement for dioxins, and waste-to-energy incinerator planning demonstrates it hugely underestimates the amount of dioxin production and leachate into surrounding areas (See source 1).
There are no standards the incinerator must comply with during Other Than Normal Operating Conditions (OTNOC). This includes when the incinerator is started up and shut down (for example, for maintenance or when a problem arises), or when there's a plant failure or emergency event. Veolia's current Woodlawn operations have resulted in thousands of odour complaints, EPA fines and frequent operating issues and problems (See source 10). This strongly indicates Veolia will also experience problems operating the incinerator in this location and frequently need to start-up and shut-down the incinerator. Each time this happens unregulated levels of emissions will be funnelled out into the air of Goulburn-Mulwaree and the land, air and waterways around Tarago, Bungendore, Collector, Gundaroo and Lake Bathurst. Airbourne nano-particulate matter could reach the northern suburbs of Canberra and the city of Goulburn (See source 1).
The world's "most stringent standards" do NOT require Veolia to prevent emissions of toxic pollutants, they are simply required to reduce emissions to a certain threshold (See source 13). Unfortunately, many of the toxic pollutants emitted from the incinerator are recognised by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), NSW Government and World Health Organisation (WHO) as dangerous to human and animal health in ANY amount (See source 2).
A majority of Industry representatives surveyed standards do not believe Veolia, or any company, will be able to comply with the operating standards (See source 14). If industry representatives feel the standards set are impossible to meet, setting the "world's most stringent standards" has no meaning. Just like the EPA notices and fines have had little to no impact in improving Veolia's current Woodlawn operations, setting impossible standards does not mean Veolia's incinerator will be able to comply.
Below is a list of some of the chemicals and byproducts that will be emitted into the air around Tarago during the operation of Veolia's proposed incinerator. Many of these are dangerous to human health in minuscule amounts [parts per billion (See source 2). Nano-particles are not effectively captured by air filtration, travel long distances by air and penetrate deep into our lungs.
Some of the emissions from Veolia's proposed incinerator will include:
Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
acid gases (HCl, HF, SO2)
particulate matter (TSP, PM10, PM2.5 and nano-particles including neurotoxic metals, PCBs, dioxins, furans)
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
volatile organic compounds
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
volatile metals (As, Sb, Co, Cr, Cu, Pb, Mn, Ni, V)
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (1)
But won't the NSW Government examine this proposal and make sure it's safe before allowing Veolia to build it?
Yes and no. The government will look at Veolia's proposal and consider community submissions. BUT, the NSW Government and the NSW EPA both report that there are significant health risks associated with living near an incinerator, AND that agriculture should not be conducted near an incinerator (See source 14). As residents of Tarago and surrounding areas rely on tank water, toxic particulate matter entering water tanks and waterways will accelerate the health risks associated with an incinerator. This particulate matter will enter the Sydney Water supply (as Tarago is a part of Sydney's catchment area). It will also be absorbed in the region's agricultural production as dams and waterways are used to irrigate crops and water livestock, and as the land itself is cropped.. Toxic matter will enter the food chain in this way and be spread throughout NSW and wider regions as farmers sell their products to supermarkets and produce suppliers (See source 3).
Why would the government allow this when it's not safe?
With landfill sites in Sydney set to reach capacity over the next 10 years, the government is looking for a quick and easy way to fix Sydney's waste problem. There's a lot of land near Tarago - but a lot less election votes to oppose the plan for a waste incinerator, which makes it an easier option. The NSW Government determined that a waste-to-energy incinerator was not permissible in Western Sydney because of the risk to human health.
We're all human - so what's not safe for Sydney, isn't safe for anybody in NSW. And it's especially not safe for our homes, families and farms.
Veolia says the project will generate hundreds of jobs for our region - isn't that important?
Veolia says the project will generate 40 permanent jobs when the incinerator is operational. The remainder of the jobs promised are in temporary construction roles during the two years that the incinerator is built. Even if the 40 positions are all brand new positions and not amalgamated with roles at Veolia's current operations, the local community risks losing far more than 40 positions if the incinerator is built. We'll lose farm workers, business owners, tourism-related industry, commercial interests, etc. (See source 6).
For example, when Farmer Sam and his wife Sue and their three kids are no longer able to work on their farm because the government says it's too close to the incinerator for safety, they have to move. That means that the five other farmhands also lose their jobs. Mike's produce store supplied Sam with feed, equipment and supplies at his produce store and he now has to lay off staff. Sue ran a farm-stay program on the farm, and Betty's business provided food and wine packages, Amanda and Tim cleaned the accommodation, Kylie did transport and tours to local attractions, and Tim ran a shop in the village that sold to the tourists. Fred and George run the local pub and referred people to Sue's for accommodation for special events.
All of their businesses are affected and staffing cuts are made. People now start moving away from Tarago to find work and the number of kids at the local school drops so teacher and support staff jobs at the school get cut. The local cafe can't make ends meet because people in town don't have money to spend and tourists don't want to visit a town with a toxic incinerator.
It's a simplified story to demonstrate, but this is the type of flow-on effect we can predict if the incinerator is built outside Tarago. It will impact everyone in town and the flow-on effects will be felt throughout the entire region.