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Wexford's Great French Waste Burner Stitch-up

By William Sutherland
They sat in front of us in their neat suits just beneath the pantomime stage of Campile Parish Hall where the kids play indoor hurling every Wednesday. Starting at their feet, they had shiny clean shoes, in the middle they had computers and video graphic wonders and at the top they had shiny ties and self-satisfied smiles. The hall was filled with sorry, anxious people, some with sleeping babies and many with working clothes.

The men in their suits laughed and joked as they tapped little buttons to exercise their smart machines. They had come to tell us about the waste burner, the great French waste burner that would consume over one ton of waste each minute for the next umpteen years. It would be put up beside the old power station of Great Island by the river Barrow just a few miles north of Waterford. It would cost millions - noone seemed quite sure how many millions or who would be doing the paying or what profit would be taken by the French operating company. Thousands of tons of extra waste would be brought from other parts of Ireland to make the machine more effective. Wexford County Council was particularly pleased about this and so were all the other Counties.

The tourists, the farmers and fishermen would not like the great waste burner but we were assured it would only be built if the local community were completely happy. And its daily tons of gas and smoke would be carefully filtered all the time, there would be constant monitoring by the EPA and the whole thing would be a fantastic testament to the wonders of modern technology. Every single angle had been thought through, there were simple answers for every worry. The government had decided that burning the rubbish was better than burying it - especially since everyone expected there would be much more of it as economic growth continued in the years to come. It would be nice of course if there could be less rubbish - most of the men in suits took their own bags to do their shopping but one had to be 'realistic'.

Under French leadership the men in suits had done their work well and the audience were left gasping at the wonder of it all. Sadly the Chairman of the County Council had not been able to come because of something more important. But the County Engineer explained that costs of getting rid of rubbish would soon rise enormously. Burning it all was best. The Railways thought the plan was good, the Electricity Board thought the plan was good, the County Council thought the plan was good, the French company thought the plan was good, the Government thought the plan was good. The pictures, the talk and the videos were good too. The nice photo of a big French incinerator all on its own in the lovely French countryside was particularly special - all the people who lived near this one absolutely loved it.

Could there be anything that anyone might have missed?

Could there be anything even slightly strange about plans to burn all these thousands of tons of cast-off consumer mish-mash? Every year more and more would have to be burned if forecasts were right - maybe up to two tons each minute in fifteen years time.

Did anyone say anything about dioxins - no, we would not be discussing the detailedtechnical side of things on this occasion. But the fluidised bed combustion system was a marvel of its kind. Did anyone say anything about other ways of avoiding such monumental folly? Like living sustainably so that we produce no rubbish!

Did any of this have anything to do with Agenda 21 and commitments given by governments at the Rio Earth Summit? Had the public been given any opportunity to consider other alternatives?

Were the costs of all this to the public really known - especially in the future when the French led consortium would have a total monopoly.

How were other countries dealing with the waste issue?

Why did we have to produce so much rubbish and where was it all coming from? Were there ways of making less rubbish? How far could recycling, composting, waste separation and changed shopping habit affect the predictions?

No, alas this was not an occasion for such questions. It was an occasion of dumb wonder as this fabulous stitch-up was presented by the men below the pantomime stage. We filed away into the cold starry night, angry and depressed, back to our homes and our work and the daily round. As we went we thought of the laughing men in suits, the politicians who were not able to show their faces and the bills that we would have to pay for all this folly.

Now catch your breath and think your thoughts. The suits say they even have the technology to burn all the cow shit which pollutes the water now that farmers can no longer afford to mix it with straw properly as manure to feed the land. It will indeed be a strange world we leave for our children. Two tons of foul gas every minute forever, and ever - but always monitored ever so carefully and mostly blowing east.

It is time for someone somewhere to think again. In the long-term waste is our only resource. The rubbish tips of today will be the mines of tomorrow. And cancer will continue to be the largest industry in the western world.

Could that Thursday in Campile be a Watershed in planetary management? Could the great waste burner planner for Great Island be the rally point for sanity in an insane world?

The story continues...

William Sutherland lives in Killowen, New Ross, Co.Wexford

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