Arc21 boss: Northern Ireland is 'drifting into a waste crisis'

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

Image source, Becon Consortium
Image caption,
An artist's impression of the proposed waste facility

Northern Ireland is "drifting" into a waste crisis if it does not build a £240m waste incinerator, Arc21's chief executive has said.

The controversial development, near Mallusk, is back in the planning system after a six-year journey, including through the courts.

Arc21, a waste management body for six NI councils, wants it approved.

Tim Walker said the closure of export markets, with landfill close to capacity, posed a significant risk.

He said the waste crisis was due to not having "enough local facilities to treat non-recyclable household waste, let alone our commercial and industrial waste".

The proposal has proven controversial amid local opposition, which has enjoyed cross party support.

Objectors claim it is not needed because the target is for even more recycling.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots is reputed to have called the plant a "waste monster" during a meeting with opponents.

He later said while he was "currently not convinced" about the incinerator, he remained "convincible".

Image caption,
The NoArc21 group is opposed to the incinerator

Arc21 insists the incinerator is necessary to address Northern Ireland's waste needs.

Just over half of all household waste is now recycled, 24% is sent to landfill and 22% goes to energy recovery.

The Arc21 proposal would see black bin waste from the six councils brought to the plant in a former quarry near Mallusk.

It says any recyclable material would be removed before residual waste is incinerated to generate electricity for 30,000 homes.

An existing waste plant in Belfast Harbour uses a different thermal technology to deal with black bin waste.

The Full Circle Generation facility says it and a sister company can deal with 80% of Northern Ireland's household rubbish.

About one million tonnes of household waste is collected in Northern Ireland annually.

A further 780,000 tonnes is collected from commercial sources like shops, offices, hotels and the public sector.

Latest targets include 65% of waste to be recycled by 2030 and only 10% allowed to go to landfill.

The Arc21 proposal has been approved by planners, overturned by a Stormont minister, recommended for approval on appeal by the Planning Appeals Commission, approved by a senior civil servant during Stormont's collapse, before that decision was overturned by the courts, which ruled only a minister could make the decision.

It is now awaiting a decision from Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, which requires input from the environment minister about Northern Ireland's waste treatment requirements.