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Sheffield’s Waste Incinerator

March 4, 2017

By Paul Homewood



Looking down Burngreave Road with Bernard Road incinerator (Sheffield Heat and Power) and Wybourn in the distance, Sheffield S3/S4/S2

Bernard Road Waste Incinerator, Sheffield


Continuing the theme of CHP plants, Sheffield has had its own in the form of the Bernard Road Waste Incinerator since the late 1980s.

At the time it seemed tick all of the green boxes:

  • Reducing landfill
  • Producing electricity from waste
  • Providing district heating from waste heat.

The plant was developed and run by Sheffield City Council, in conjunction with Sheffield Heat and Power Ltd.

Unfortunately it did not take long for things to go wrong.



The basic problem was that the incinerator was built bang in the middle of Sheffield, within a few hundred yards of residential areas.

Concerns were soon raised about the effect of smoke and emissions on local health. Greenpeace were at the forefront of objections. In 2001 they occupied the Bernard Road incinerator and painted “Toxic Crime” on the chimney. At that time the incinerator was the most polluting in the country and there were grave concerns about the health effects. The emission of dioxins  were known to cause cancer, heart disease, liver damage, hormonal disruption, reproductive disorders and much more.


In 2001, the City Council was forced to privatise the plant, as it was unable to pay for the necessary upgrades to meet pollution standards. Onyx were awarded a 35- year contract worth £1.3bn to run it. Onyx (now Veolia) quickly realised that the old plant would have to close, and replaced with a new one, commissioned in 2006.


Despite much better pollution controls, complaints are still being made about smoke. I can actually vouch for this, as I could see the chimney from the top of the hill everyday on the way to work. On still days, white smoke could be seen spreading out over the nearby area.



Houses in Wybourn downwind of Bernard Rd

Houses in Wybourn downwind of Bernard Rd

Eventually in 2012, Public Health England (PHE) were pressured into setting up a study into the effects on health of 22 waste incinerators up and down the country, including the Sheffield one.

The report was due to be available by 2014, but has still to be published.

We await the results, but what is known is that these plants do emit a range of toxic substances, such as dioxins and mercury, gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, as well as particulates. The only question is whether the quantities involved are deemed “safe”.


A further issue has also arisen with Bernard Road. There is now not enough rubbish generated in Sheffield to meet the plant’s demands for energy. This is due to the fact that more waste is being recycled nowadays.

Veolia have therefore had to submit a planning application to import waste from a very wide region around Sheffield – effectively across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

It was estimated that an extra 15000 tonnes of rubbish would need to be shipped into Sheffield, in addition to 50000 tonnes which is already transported in from outside of town.

Sheffield residents are naturally up in arms that they will get the fumes from burning other towns’ waste. Not to mention the problems arising from all of the lorry journeys involved.


Through all of this, government has appeared to ambivalent, trapped between landfill and recycling targets, not to mention decarbonisation ones.

When attempting to justify the closure of coal power plants, politicians invariably play the pollution card.

Yet they seem to be perfectly happy to see waste incinerators belching out probably much more real pollution, and in the middle of towns to make matters worse.

All in the name of the great god, CO2!

Looking back, I find it incredible that it took so long to set up the PHE study, or that a full embargo was not put on new incinerators many years ago until all of the facts were known.

  1. Jack Broughton permalink
    March 4, 2017 7:44 pm

    The problems of incineration are not very closely linked to the AGW nonsense. The issue here is that landfill is dangerous, dirty and being rapidly costed-out of use. The only real, proven alternative to landfill (apart from the export of our rubbish to countries that don’t care) is mass burn. Sheffield was one of the leading sites as it was one of the few to include district heating, I was not aware of local emissions breaches.

    The “smoke” from the chimneys is steam from the scrubbers I think.
    The emissions problems have been resolved, at great cost, on most incinerators.

    Most of the incinerators are built, supplied and owned by foreign companies who are making nice money from the gate-fees alone: the UK gave up on heavy engineering many years ago and cannot make any major components of power plants now!

    • Wa231 permalink
      March 5, 2017 7:58 am

      There speaks someone who doesn’t live near one!

      It beggars belief that anyone would build an incinerator in the midst of a densely populated residential area. It is the sort of thing you might expect in the third world.

      Once the thing becomes a fact on the ground it is very difficult to do anything and we have seen from the VW scandal just how easy it is for rapacious capitalists to rig emissions compliance, even when someone else is doing the measuring.

      • Tim Hammond permalink
        March 5, 2017 10:13 am

        Ah yes, rapacious capitalists. Providing things people want at as low a price as possible. What terrible, evil people. And what do you do for us that makes you so sainted.

    • March 5, 2017 11:39 am

      Apparently Sheffield City Council was prosecuted in 1999 for “persistently” failing to ensure its incinerator complied with legal emission limits.

  2. Martin Brumby permalink
    March 4, 2017 8:13 pm

    I am afraid I take an extremely cautious approach to all the greenie bedwetters who moan about air pollution. Either from incinerators / diesel cars or their own fundements (much more likely).
    I cannot say how much a danger to health, comparatively trivial concentrations of NOx genuinely pose.
    I do know that the danger of particulates is enormously exaggerated (see, for example, Steve Milloy’s new book “Scare Pollution, Why & how to fix the E.P.A.”
    I also know that air pollution levels today are far and away lower than they were when I was a lad. And that life expextancy is steadily increasing (and also apparently increasing in really polluted cities like Beijing & Mandalay).
    Lastly, I also recognise many of the loudest and most persistent bleaters from their lamentations and shroud waving about “carbon”.
    Why would I pay attention to a bunch of twats like that?

    • Wa231 permalink
      March 5, 2017 8:01 am

      Ask anyone from outside London what they think of the air on arriving in Zone 1 and they will say the same.

      It is nasty, polluted and unhealthy. We don’t need 500 scientific reports to debate this – we know it is bad, bad, bad and needs dealing with.

      • Tim Hammond permalink
        March 5, 2017 10:11 am

        Yes who needs science when you know the answer. Zero evidence for your claim (nasty, polluted and unhealthy meaning the same) but who cares if you are one if those super-clever people who just know.

      • March 5, 2017 3:24 pm

        I used to commute up to Oxford Street for work – and would always find a load black gunk in my handkerchief after blowing my nose when I arrived home from work. I’m guessing it wasn’t the healthiest air to be breathing.

    • Derek Buxton permalink
      March 6, 2017 10:25 am

      Mr. Brumby, thanks for that, I too am fed up with the constant moaning from people who do not know what pollution is. I am 83+ from Tinsley in the heart, once, of steelmaking and forging. That was pollution but we are still here amongst the living. I was amazed this morning to catch a clip from the BBC, who else, about pollution from drivers who keep their engines running outside schools. They had a whole class outside complaining with banners and minders telling people to shut off their engines. Sad as our so called education system is brain washing children is several steps too far.

  3. John F. Hultquist permalink
    March 4, 2017 8:56 pm

    Say, there are reports of much garbage in North America. Locally, it is crushed, baled, and buried. It would stack nicely on ships carrying wood pellets and make the ocean crossing for minimal extra cost. I’ll need a couple of million € to study this. I’ll get started just as soon as that is deposited. Thanks.

  4. Bitter&twisted permalink
    March 4, 2017 10:12 pm

    They don’t call it the “Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire” for nothing

  5. Svend Ferdinandsen permalink
    March 4, 2017 11:03 pm

    The same story repeats itself. The greens want others (government) to stop burning fossil fuels, and others to remove the garbage. They never think it is themselves that burn the fuels and produce the garbage, and have to take some responsibility for the situation.
    In their view it is the fuel industry and the garbage companies that makes the problems.

    In Denmark some incenerators also import waste to burn, because we produce not enough.
    Would you better make the needed heat and electricity from coal and gas and dump the garbage in big piles.

  6. Svend Ferdinandsen permalink
    March 4, 2017 11:13 pm

    An other twist of the story is that it is sold to a private company. In that way the community feels no reponsibility for the waste even if it is the community that produces it and they like the heat and electricity it produces.

  7. Pat Swords permalink
    March 5, 2017 12:42 am

    I’m afraid that sadly somebody didn’t do their homework before writing this article. The standards required for such waste to energy plants have been very advanced since the introduction of the EU’s 2000/76/EC waste incineration Directive, although also very expensive, as some 40% of the capital cost of such a systems will go on flue gas cleaning. Yes things were different back in the eighties, when the flue gas cleaning was limited to an electrofilter, but that’s a long time ago and society then had different expectations.

    As regards heavy metals, the Swiss have for many decades relied on municipal incineration and have for many years completed extensive monitoring, including biological monitoring in the vicinity of such plants. They found that it would take several hundred years of operation of such plant before the heavy metal concentrations in the soil would reach any thresholds of significance. You can see for instance the article below recording 40 years of monitoring the leaves in the vicinity of Swiss municipal incinerator plant, the second page shows a picture of the site, which is built in a valley with a nearby mountain from which they collected the leaves on the trees:

    The Swiss didn’t build any mechanical biological composting plants, their authorities didn’t agree with this technology approach, so promoted by the Greens as the proper alternative for municipal waste to energy plants. The Swiss were right, the health hazards associated with such composting plants are truly awful and nobody should be required to go and work in such an unhealthy environment. These composting plants also have unacceptable impacts, not just limited to odour, in the the surrounding area. So if there is to be a tune sung about the unacceptable impacts of waste treatment, then I afraid this article is way off the mark and has targeted blindly the wrong area.

  8. Graeme No.3 permalink
    March 5, 2017 3:05 am

    What sort of waste? Years ago a company in the USA got sick and tired of the smell coming from the vast rubbish tip next door even though it had be ‘capped’ with a layer of clay. Gases were causing that ‘sealing layer’ to heave and split, releasing gases.
    Fortunately someone asked what is the composition of the gases? The company found that it contained a large percentage of methane and arranged an array of pipes to remove the gas and burn it in their boilers/heaters. No more smell problem, and the cost of fuel dropping substantially

    The volume of rubbish also dropped, so every so often a portion of the dump was re-opened for more fill.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      March 5, 2017 8:39 pm

      The UK has a lot of landfill site that generate power from the methane. The problem is that the water run-off is dangerous and the sites emit a lot of smells and nasty compounds.

      The reason for banning them by the EU is not so clear, probably methane emissions overheating the world. The net outcome is that we have to get rid of the rubbish and only about 40 – 50 % can be sensibly recycled. Burning is the only real alternative, and waste is not easy to burn due to its wide variability.

      I work on a number of incinerator sites and as Pat says above they are highly regulated and in my opinion well operated: they still have troubles though (which keeps me off the streets).

  9. NeilC permalink
    March 5, 2017 7:25 am

    Veolia, wasn’t/isn’t that well known trougher Gummer/Lord whatever a director/Chairman of this company?

    • waterside4 permalink
      March 5, 2017 10:23 am

      Yes Neil, that’s Gummer on the fiddle (Viola) again.

  10. March 5, 2017 9:53 am

    Reblogged this on Wolsten.

  11. Bloke down the pub permalink
    March 5, 2017 11:28 am

    I’m very disappointed in you Paul. After all these years, I’d have thought by now that you’d know to take photos of emissions from chimneys with the sun behind it so that it appears black ,not white.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      March 5, 2017 8:41 pm

      Also, the steam from the scrubbers is not a pollutant, but makes a fine picture.

  12. March 5, 2017 1:01 pm

    The very odd thing about all of this is that both Greenpeace and the Green Party are strongly against the incinerator.

    Now I would be the last person to suggest that we should believe what they say, but you would have thought that it would tick all the green boxes for them.

    • March 5, 2017 11:48 pm

      No they oppose cos decades ago they were bad, but mainly cos it’s a SUSTAINABLE and cheap alternative to paying their solar/wind mafia mates subsidy $$.
      As Pat Swords says above High Temp waste incineration is safe. (dioxins happen only at low temp).
      “emit a range of toxic substances, such as dioxins and mercury, gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, as well as particulates.”
      Well that’s straight off scare PR, cos burn a lot of anything and you could emit stuff, but incinerators have proper filters.
      Actually nature is worse ..Forest wires do all that except instead of dioxins they emit radiation in magnitudes far higher than nuclear power plants , simply cos all nature has trace of radioactivity.

  13. Mike Williams permalink
    March 5, 2017 1:22 pm

    Landfill gets a bad rap. Its the standard method of garbage disposal in North America because we have the space and an irrational aversion to incineration. The landfills are sealed to protect the ground water, they are capped, and the methane extraction systems might produce more net energy than waste-to-heat (unless methods have improved significantly since my father ran a then state-of-the-art plant, a lot of mechanical/thermal energy needs to be put in to get a clean self-sustaining burn).

    I live 2kms from “Mount Carp” one of Ottawa’s 2 landfills. This garbage pile is now probably the highest point in Ottawa (Ontario side) and growing. Once or twice a year the conditions are such that you can smell it but apart from garbage truck traffic it is just something you see looming on the horizon as you drive West out of Ottawa. There is even a nice English style pub across the street from it. The plan is to turn it into a ski hill when they shut it down in 20 years.

  14. dennisambler permalink
    March 5, 2017 5:52 pm

    “The emission of dioxins were known to cause cancer, heart disease, liver damage, hormonal disruption, reproductive disorders and much more.”

    Dioxin comes into the same category as Cholesterol and CO2 for hyped harmful effects.

    I wonder what would happen if there were a campaign against the massive releases of dioxins in the global New Year celebrations?

    New Scientist Planet Science: Newswire | Technofile | [Archive: 3 July 1999]

    Red, white and dioxin

    “Americans and Canadians could be celebrating the Fourth

    of July and Canada Day in a fog of dioxins after their usual fireworks

    displays this weekend. Researchers at the Technical University

    of Braunschweig in Germany have found high levels of the toxic chemicals

    in fireworks. In the latest issue of Chemosphere (vol 39, p 925), they say

    that blue fireworks release the most dioxins. This is because the copper

    responsible for their colour catalyses the formation of the poisons when

    chlorinated chemicals in the fireworks burn.”

  15. March 5, 2017 8:50 pm

    ‘All in the name of the great god, CO2!’

    Surely you mean “great satan CO2” ?

  16. March 6, 2017 9:49 am

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  17. Geoffrey Pohanka permalink
    March 6, 2017 11:03 am

    Funny that the UK imports wood from the USA to reduce CO2 emissions (allegedly) but chooses to burn trash which generates CO2 instead of sequestering it in landfills. Why burn trash (because it is the best way to eliminate garbage), Why burn coal, because it is the cheapest way to generate electricity. Something stinks when it is ok to create CO2 one way and not the other,

  18. March 6, 2017 4:26 pm

    OK, so you have an incinerator in the middle of the city. Would you rather have a solid waste dump in the middle of the city? What makes anyone think that rural areas want your garbage dumped where they live. It’s good that the city is taking care of their own waste.

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