Clashing views on potential Ljubljana incinerator presented

Ljubljana – The Ljubljana municipality has presented the idea of building a waste incinerator in the capital, which the local authorities believe would permanently solve the problem of non-recyclable waste and allow Ljubljana to say goodbye to coal. Meanwhile, several parties are strongly opposed to the incinerator project due to its environmental impact.

Launching the public debate on the waste-to-energy plant, the municipality unveiled the idea in the Cukrarna arts centre on Wednesday.

Such facilities in Vienna were highlighted as an example of good practice at the event that featured Michael Ludwig, mayor and governor of Vienna, who said that the city’s waste management challenge had been addressed in three stages.

“The first is waste prevention, the second is recycling,” he said, adding that Vienna generated around 1,200 million tonnes of waste per year, about a third of which was recycled. The third stage posed the question of what to do with the waste that cannot be recycled, so in 2016 the Austrian capital started to put more emphasis on incineration.

“We have four large incinerators in the city area. We asked ourselves what is better – to bury the waste in the ground, which takes up a lot of space, or to process it by incinerating it in an environmentally friendly way and to clean up the emissions,” he said, adding that Vienna had the most efficient filters to do that.

One of the incinerators is close to one of the world’s top hospitals in the city, and if the emissions were harmful to the population, Vienna would certainly not have built the incinerator there, he pointed out.

Another advantage of such facilities is heat generation that is used by thousands of households and has reduced carbon dioxide emissions in Vienna, Ludwig said.

The best available technology would be used in Ljubljana too, said Marko Agrež of the energy distributor Energetika Ljubljana.

The incinerator would provide a permanent solution to the problem of non-recyclable mixed municipal waste, he noted, adding this would be put to good use and put the circular economy principle into practice.

This waste-to-energy approach would ensure coal would no longer be used in the municipality, he said.

Two locations are seen as potential sites for the incinerator – one on Zaloška Road near the Ljubljana Power Station and another on Letališka Road near the BTC shopping district.

Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković said that the municipality was not deviating from the Zero Waste strategy by reviving the idea of an incinerator, but it was still a long way to go to reach waste-free society. The amount of waste per capita in Slovenia is increasing, and the upward curve must be urgently turned downwards, he noted.

The incinerator would ensure a higher quality of life and economic viability for Ljubljana citizens, he added.

Meanwhile, another event was held today where opposition to the idea was expressed by the coalition Left as well as non-parliamentary parties and initiatives, including Vesna, Pirate Party, List of Cyclists and Pedestrians and Ljubljana Open City.

The incinerator, which is envisaged under a regulation adopted by the previous government, is also strongly opposed by health experts, as it is not specified which health impacts of the facility have to be assessed, said Pirate Party’s Jasmin Feratović.

Janez Stariha, a Ljubljana city councillor and member of the List of Cyclists and Pedestrians, pointed to the alarming levels of particle pollution in Ljubljana in wintertime, saying that an incinerator would only aggravate the situation.

Vesna co-leader Urša Zgojznik summed up the Austrian Green Party’s letter on the incinerators in Vienna, which are often cited as an example of good practice: “The supposedly easy production of energy without further waste processing is the biggest problem with incinerators.

“Incineration results in no mechanical biological treatment, not enough separate waste collection and recycling. And these technologies would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste management while saving important raw materials,” she summarised the letter.

Incinerators do not provide a solution for excess plastic waste, they only allow the plastics industry to continue to make profit, and waste processors to make profit too, said Left’s Luka Omladič. The energy from burning plastics in even the most modern incinerators is the most carbon-intensive, the most emissions-intensive and the most environmentally damaging, he added.

Janković believes it is not right for a government party to protest against the incinerator. “The party is in the government, it has all the mechanims in its hands to ensure that the government does not approve a concession and that is that,” he said.

The Youth for Climate Justice is also against the incinerator project. In a press release they highlighted the lack of transparency in the current decision-making process, as up until now, they said, everything had taken place behind closed doors.