How committed is Suffolk to the idea of Greenest County?

The waste incinerator at Great Blakenham.

The waste incinerator at Great Blakenham. - Credit: Archant

I don’t have any real problem with the idea of burning waste – so long as the smoke is properly filtered and if the heat that is generated is put to some good use.

And if we are going to burn waste in Suffolk, then Great Blakenham – a village that survived and thrived for decades in the shadow of the Blue Circle chimney – seems like a pretty good location.

So the existence of the incinerator on its present site doesn’t fill me with concern. As it officially opens tomorrow, I’m quite happy to accept it for what it is.

I’ve always had difficulty with its description as an “Energy from Waste Plant”. That’s always struck me as disingenuous – as a classic attempt to hide an inconvenient truth.

It’s an incinerator. When engineers at the county council started thinking about it 10 years ago, the question was not: “How do we get more energy for Suffolk?” It was: “How do we get rid of our waste without shoving it into the ground.”

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Now we get to the nitty-gritty of next week’s cabinet meeting, and something that does concern me rather – or is it just my inbuilt scepticism that it troubles?

In the same cabinet meeting there are two debates. One is, bluntly, whether to charge people for the collection of brown bins on the same basis as households in Babergh and Mid Suffolk – ie £50 a year.

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The other is to refinance the amount the county council pays for its use of the incinerator on a per tonne basis.

I’m told the two issues are unrelated – but their existence on the same agenda did leave me wondering where all these issues leave Suffolk’s stated ambition to be the “Greenest County” in England?

I don’t buy this idea that if people have to pay £50 a year to get their brown bins emptied, they’re all going to start using more home composting bins.

There’s no way these bins could cope with all the grass, vegetable peelings, shredded documents, garden cuttings and general compostable material that the average family creates. Unless, of course, they have six or seven composters lined up against the fence. Get real!

In the end those without brown bins will start to put this kind of rubbish in their black bins. It will go to the incinerator where the council will pay a fraction of what it does for sending it to the composting plant.

The council might not want that to happen – but that’s human nature for you, and Suffolk needs to accept that.

Going green does cost. Green electricity costs more than that simply created by burning dirty coal. Composting costs more than burning.

If cutting costs is the be-all and end-all of the county council’s ambition then fine. But in that case it should be honest and admit that “The Greenest County” aspiration is now redundant.

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