The “Energy Recovery Facility” at Tyseley is owned by Veolia, with a contract to take Birmingham City Council’s municipal waste.
What goes in?
366,414 tonnes a year of mixed refuse, consisting of black bags (1 a week for 400,000 households would be 2 million a year) that contain; air, water, waste food, paper, plastics, bottles, clothing. It also burns ‘bulky waste’ including; furniture, household goods, bicycles. (3)
What kind of fuel is it?
A rubbish fuel. The calorific value (9,200 kJ/kg) is only one third that of coal, so mains gas has to be pumped in to make it burn properly. Much of the heat released comes from burning the aluminium cans in the rubbish (which would be worth £1,000 a tonne if recycled). (2)
Is it a source of air pollution?
The Tyseley rubbish incinerator is, not surprisingly, the largest source of CO2 in the city, emitting 282,013 tonnes of carbon dioxide, along with nitrous oxides, methane, hydrogen fluoride, and heavy metals into the air over East Birmingham. The incinerator seems incompatible with the city meeting its target to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2026. (1) (4)
It makes electricity, doesn’t it?
166,230 Mwh produced in 2010. Some is used to run the plant and floodlight the exterior at night, the rest being exported to the grid.
Most of the heat released escapes, as low grade warm air. The low efficiency and high CO2 emissions make the burner far more polluting than coal or gas as a way to make electricity. Far from being ‘green’ or ‘renewable’, the process is actually making our electricity supply dirtier. It only exists because the City Council subsidises it. (3)
What else comes out of it?
22% by weight of what goes in is incombustible matter, which comes out of the bottom as 81,400 tonnes of ash per year. Plus 10,124 tonnes of ‘fly ash’, which traps dangerous toxins from the chimney and has to be separately “disposed of”; equals a total 91,500 tonnes of ash per year.3,406 tonnes a year of low grade iron and steel are recovered by magnet. (3)
What about recycling?
Birmingham still burns or buries two thirds of municipal waste and just 32% is recycled or composted, compared to recycling rates of 47% Walsall, 50% Derby. Coventry has recently set up a zero waste research centre to help it move towards zero waste, i.e. everything to find a use. (5)
Sources of information
1. Environment Agency ‘What's in your backyard?' website 2011
2. DECC energy statistics Calorific Values of Fuels 2011
3. Veolia Annual reports Tyseley Energy from Waste 2009
4. Birmingham Climate Change Action Plan 2010
5. Resource magazine; ‘Zero Waste Race’ Sept 2011