Where there's muck, there's brass or, to put it another way, one person's rubbish is another person's valuable resource.
As The Herald reports today, a number of west of Scotland local authorities are preparing to join forces to turn their residual waste into green power and simultaneously generate up to £50 million of savings. Though Glasgow City Council is making its own arrangements, five of the authorities around the city's fringes have gone some way towards the joint commissioning of a massive incinerator that will convert into energy the waste left after recycling and composting.
This is precisely the sort of project urged by Sir John Arbuthnott in 2009 in his blueprint for public sector reform across the Clyde Valley. And it is the kind of scheme The Herald has argued for in its Reshaping Scotland campaign. If damage to frontline services is to be minimised in this age of austerity, it is essential that public sector bodies make efficiency savings, including the sharing of "back office" services.
To date, progress on this agenda has been disappointingly slow. This is understandable. The introduction of proportional representation into council elections has turned what was once a Labour Party hegemony into a political patchwork quilt, with each authority jealously guarding its own patch and looking nervously over its shoulder at the dominating presence of Glasgow City Council. Any joint enterprise must find ways of preserving each authority's individual line of responsibility.
The Landfill Tax has nudged councils in the right direction but now the 2020 landfill ban is on the horizon to concentrate minds and bang heads together. The ultimate goal is a zero waste Scotland. In the pursuit of ambitious climate change targets, waste processing is particularly important because of the destructive power of methane emissions from landfill sites.
Incinerators are controversial. Even councils with the best records on recycling and composting are left with a residue that needs to be disposed of. There is a requirement on them to extract the best economic and environmental value from this stuff. Provided the smokestack emissions can be properly monitored and controlled, incineration should be a win-win, as it produces energy as well as displacing landfill emissions. Of course, in ascending order, recycling, re-use and waste prevention are preferable. Mass incineration must never simply replace mass landfill.
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