French waste plans come under attack

Environment minister claims incineration bias, says majority of plans need modifying

France's Green environment minister, Dominique Voynet, has strongly criticised waste management plans being drawn up by all French departments under the terms of a 1992 national waste law. Speaking at a conference held by the Green Party last weekend, Ms Voynet said that three-quarters of the plans needed "modifying" and that too many favoured waste incineration over other waste management options.

The 1992 act requires departments to draw up waste disposal plans organising treatment systems, setting targets for the different treatment methods and indicating current and additional necessary capacity. The plans are aimed at helping the authorities to adapt their treatment facilities to meet a deadline set in the act, whereby only "final" or inert waste will be authorised to go to landfill from 2002.

Many plans were prepared with a heavy emphasis on incineration to get rid of the mounting quantities of waste within their boundaries. Some 75% of the investment costs included in the 79 plans already approved are earmarked for building or upgrading incinerators. A recent consultancy report predicted that incineration would increase to account for nearly half of household waste by 2002 (ENDS Daily 25 November 1997).

Ms Voynet's comments join a growing wave of criticism of the plans, including from local communities near existing or proposed incinerator sites. Departmental prefects, who approve the plans, have been charged with making them too "technocratic" by favouring unrealistic and expensive waste treatment systems. There is also growing concern amongst municipal authorities, which are responsible for household waste management, that the plans are not suited to their local conditions.

Several of the plans envisage a very high incineration capacity and, in some cases, incinerators are planned for rural departments where, given the amount of waste generated, the facilities would likely operate at well below full capacity.

Ms Voynet is well known to oppose mass incineration of waste, favouring source reduction, separate collection, re-use and recycling instead and viewing incineration with energy recovery and landfill as the "last links in the chain". The minister has indicated that she intends to make a statement in the coming weeks which will re-examine aspects of waste management policy in France.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; Green Party, tel: +33 1 43 55 10 01.

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