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CSIRO Misinformation At ICC WtE Presentation?


On August 13 2020 Dr Daniel Roberts, Drs Andrea Walton and Rod McCrea, from CSIRO gave the attached presentation on WtE to ICC Staff 

If ICC was hoping for science from the CSIRO, that's not what they got on this occasion. Somewhat surprising since 'scientific' and 'research' are part of 'CSIRO'.


Without being privy to the discussion that went with the presentation (but assuming that the discussion mirrored the slides above), it looks and reads like a cut and paste from a WtE promotion. 


There is little of any substance and it is certainly pro-WtE as it parrots many of the familiar refrains of WtE proponents - established, advanced, proven, aligns with circular economy principles, it co-exists with residential communities, it's in the heart of the urban action, time for Australia to 'catch up'.





There is zero analysis of any of the negatives of WtE incineration, which information is not difficult to find even for the lay person. For example, page 4:


'Flue gases are cleaned and are readily able to meet the strictest EU emissions requirements.'


This ignores studies and findings on air emissions from northern hemisphere WtE incinerators (even newer facilities) which were found to be releasing dioxins, furans and other pollutants in excess of EU limits for years.


Page 6, 'recover energy' (ie. combustion) has been moved up the waste management hierarchy to 3rd from the bottom. Also the statement, 'Offsetting fossil-fuel-based energy with renewable* generation' is qualified with the footnote, 'The extent to which a municipal waste stream is renewable depends strongly on composition and definitions'. Yes, and you could say that combusting fossil-fuel-based waste is not 'renewable' energy production at all. 


According to the graph on page 7, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany have no landfill. So what are they doing with their toxic by-products of incineration? Recycling it? Using it in construction? Or are they exporting waste to landfill in other countries? Perhaps to those other EU countries that still have a lot of landfill?


Page 8, the push is on in Australia. Note, the EIS for the Cleanaway incinerator proposed for Western Sydney is expected in early 2021 and the project involves the same engineering company (Ramboll) as was involved in Copenhagen's Amager-Bakke incinerator. See:


Page 9, the data on the Amager-Bakke incinerator in Copenhagen comes from Volund Denmak (supplier of the furnace and boiler), therefore contains none of the downside and promulgates the idea that because it has a ski-slope and is less than 2kms from the Danish Royal Palace that it must be good.


Pages 15 and 16, Pyrolysis and gasification have yet to be proven commercially viable.


From page 19 - The all-important 'Social Licence to Operate' 

It appears that this subject has been authored by Dr Andrea Walton, a well known cheerleader for the WtE industry, contributing to Waste Management Review magazine and speaking at WtE conferences with Remondis boss Brett Collins.





















This part of the presentation provides statistical data from a survey of just 1,244 people from throughout VIC which is a small sample, from areas both impacted and not impacted by waste industries. This data is supposed to demonstrate the degree of acceptance of WtE incinerators over other forms of waste disposal. The survey questions which elicited the responses were not provided, and as we all know, survey outcomes depend on what questions are asked and how they are phrased. 


The data can also be interpreted to produce a different conclusion. For example, page 22 states that respondents thought landfill 'the worst option' but they also thought WtE was the '4th best option', read: the 2nd worst or 2nd least preferred option after landfill. In fact 40% of respondents thought WtE was either the worst option or the 2nd worst option for waste management and only 15% of respondents thought it was the best option. By contrast, around 50% of respondents would rather reuse, recycle or avoid production of waste altogether. Hardly a resounding tick for WtE but none of this is highlighted in the presentation.


On page 24, the stats reveal that of all waste management systems about which people were surveyed, they had the least knowledge of WtE - hardly surprising since we don't yet have operational mixed WtE incineration in Australia. Yet despite this, on page 25 we have the bold statement:


'Higher percentage of residents were OK with living near a waste to energy plant [compared to living near a landfill], with fewer rejecting the notion.'


Really? This conclusion was based on 31% of respondents being 'OK with it', as opposed to 27% rejecting it altogether and only 4% approving of it. Again, hardly a ringing endorsement of WtE.


But the presenters are undeterred. Page 26:


'Those living near a waste and resource recovery (WRR) facility were significantly more likely to accept living near a W2E plant'.


That's a longbow! Are they basing that on page 24's conclusion that people are ignorant about WtE, therefore what they don't know can't hurt them? Ignorance is bliss? Have they talked to people in Ipswich? Guess not.


In any case, the figures indicate otherwise - 38% of respondents were lukewarn ('OK with it')  but only 4% of non-impacted residents and 3% of impacted residents approved of the idea and 24% of impacted residents rejected the idea altogether.


Somehow they have extrapolated from the survey data that 'Residents presently impacted by a waste and resource recovery facility have more favourable attitudes toward the waste sector' which is ludicrous. Again, perhaps they should talk to Ipswich residents. Perhaps they should talk to more Victorians living with landfills on the fringes of Melbourne.


On page 28 there is recognition that trust in the waste sector is marginal and social acceptance of WtE is low, but the presenters see this as an expression of 'problematic' NIMBYism and something to be overcome. They fail to recognise that they too would be NIMBY if WtE was proposed for a site near them and their families. 

The presentation concludes with some 'Key messages for "bringing people along' with WtE':


• People are more accepting of living near a W2E plant than a waste and resource recovery hub


The stats revealed that people had the least knowledge of WtE as a waste management technology so how can they accept something of which they have little knowledge or understanding?


• Knowledge reduces perceptions of risk associated with W2E plants and enhances social acceptance


What knowledge is that?  Waste industry spin or the actual experience,  scientific studies and emissions data from the northern hemisphere?


• Residents presently impacted by a waste and resource recovery facility have more favourable attitudes toward the waste sector


What on earth is this assertion based on? Because that's not what people all around Australia who live with waste industries are saying. 


• Perceived benefits relate to social acceptance by enhancing perceptions of distributional fairness


What is 'distributional fairness' in this discussion? Are they proposing to be egalitarian by putting incineration facilities in high socio-economic districts? We think not. In any case, decisions about whether or not Australian communities should have WtE should not be based on perceptions but on the actual performance data in the northern hemisphere, environmental failures, health risks and WtE's antithesis to genuine recycling and reduction of waste. None of this is even touched on it this presentation.


• Perceived personal fairness is low and somewhat problematic 


Yes Nimbys are a problem aren't they.


• Good governance supports good community relationships with the industry, trust in the sector, 

distributional fairness, and overall social acceptance


But there is no evidence of good governance or regulation of the waste sector. The actions of the waste industry do not encourage trust in the communities in which they exist.  The experience in the northern hemisphere demonstrates that there is no cause for community acceptance of WtE.


• Demographic differences are less important than how people perceive underlying drivers of social acceptance


No, demographic differences are all important because lower socio-economic areas are those that are targeted by the waste industry including proponents of WtE.


We have completed a review of the WtE abstracts to reports written by Dr Daniel Roberts, a long time supporter of the fossil fuel industry. There remains concerns with this technology and descriptions of failures in the WtE sector. These negative aspects have been highlighted in our review. Dr Roberts appears to have understated or omitted these matters in his presentation to ICC.

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