Keith Taylor MEP voices concerns about proposed waste incineration plant in Newhaven

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for Sussex, has written to the Environmental Health team at Lewes District Council to voice his concerns about Medipower Ltd’s permit application for a medical waste incineration plant at Newhaven port. 

In his letter, Mr Taylor raised questions about the application process in general, air quality, and biodiversity among other issues. Commenting on the application process, he said:

“The application site has not been identified in the East Sussex County Waste and Minerals Plan as being considered for incineration use. Had this been the case, I do believe many local residents would have objected to the proposal, especially given the existing issues concerning air quality and incineration in Newhaven. Constituents who have written to me about the scheme to build the Medipower medical waste incinerator are rightly worried that exhaust gases from incinerating medical waste might be both toxic and carcinogenic, and I urge the local authority to take these concerns seriously.”

Elaborating on his concerns about air pollution, Mr Taylor, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health committee, explained:

“The unit’s operation would involve the movement of up to a dozen van loads per day. I have substantial concerns as this would involve the transportation of hazardous waste through residential areas. As there would be the risk of leakage and contamination, what planning conditions can be attached to rule this out?”

“Through increased traffic and through the incineration process itself, this proposal will generate emissions which will harm air quality. The applicant maintains that the proposal will be within legal limits, however, they do not explain how the cumulative effect of this application together with other existing sources of emissions will be acceptable.”

“Sadly, Newhaven like many areas on the coast of Sussex already suffers poor air quality, with air pollution in parts of Newhaven already breaching legal and European Union limits. The identification of Newhaven gyratory as an Air Quality Management Area is because some emissions already breach legal limits. Nearby residential areas including Beach Road and its environs stand to be directly affected by this application.”

On the issue of biodiversity, the Green MEP said:

“I would like to remind the local authority of the statutory duty through the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 that falls on East Sussex County Council to conserve, as well as restore and enhance biodiversity.”

“Tide Mills is home to migratory birds and Stone Curlews nest adjacent to this site. They are on the NERC list as a species of principal importance.”

“Tide Mills is also well known among Butterfly enthusiasts as it has several stands of Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea which acted as a staging area for The Long-tailed Blue butterflies which are attempting to extend their range from the continent and colonise our shores.”

“There appears to be no evidence available on the effect of the development or unit emissions on biodiversity or wildlife; and alongside local campaigners, I agree that therefore it seems sensible to apply the ‘precautionary principle’ in this instance.”

Mr Taylor also questioned the need for more incineration. Although the issue of medical waste is clearly different to that of household waste and needs to be managed accordingly, it is estimated that just 0.3% of the medical waste currently incinerated actually needs to be burned. In fact:

  • In general, 85% of the total medical waste stream in hospitals consists of the same mixture of discarded paper, plastic, glass, metal and food waste that is found in ordinary household waste
  • Just the remaining 15% is defined as infectious and it is this waste that must be sterilised before disposal
  • Just a small percentage of that infectious waste, 0.3% of the total medical waste stream in hospitals, can be disposed of only by incineration – as it is difficult to sterilise

To reduce the need for incineration, better waste separation and sterilisation systems are needed at the waste source to ensure waste that can be recycled is, and waste is managed in a joined-up approach to ensure efficiency savings.