Environment Regulation

Household waste management, episode N

The US Ambassador has again intervened in public in the row over the Poolbeg incinerator. Covanta flew some journalists to Copenhagen and they report enthusiastically about incineration there.

Covanta is concerned about the proposed (but unspecified) levies on incineration, though. They seem to accept the levies proposed by Gorecki et al and endorsed by Forfas. These levies reflect the estimated externalities of incineration, but are lower than the estimates by Eunomia. Minister Gormley, however, has proposed that levies should be unrelated to the damage caused, but should rather be set at punitive levels for undesirable technologies.

The public consultation on this has now been closed for two weeks, but the submissions have yet to be uploaded.

38 replies on “Household waste management, episode N”

“Mr Rooney said his understanding was that the company had shown Mr Gormley pictures of similar models in other countries.”

So that’s alright then.

This is the 14th article by Richard on the Poolbeg incinerator which focuses on the presumed political motivations of one of the project participants: John Gormley. What I’d like to read more about is the economic basis for the Poolbeg incinerator.

What benefit accrues to the state from the City government guaranteeing a minimum tonnage of waste to the incinerator? What benefit accrues to the state from forming a joint venture with a supplier like Covanta, rather than allowing private operators to continue create waste facilities? Will the guarantee to burn 320,000 tonnes of waste every year not inhibit recycling/reuse policies as mandated by the EU?

The ambassador might not be aware that Covanta has been fined for environmental violations in 6 US states including his home state, Pennsylvania. Indeed Covanta has a remarkable record having been fined for 11 separate pollution incidents in two facilities at Lancaster and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania for everything from Nickel to SO2, NOX, CO etc

(the perils of using the Irish Independent as a source: Dan Rooney is the American ambassador, Don Rooney is a country music singer)

Another good question, Ossian, is what remuneration is ESRI still receiving from DCC/Covanta for “consulting” on Poolbeg? RTol seems coy on the matter, and his co-bloggers seem sanguine about this website seemingly becoming a lobbying front for DCC/Covanta and the GWPF group.

From the Irish Times

A COPY of the contract between Dublin City Council and the developers of the Poolbeg incinerator, Covanta, has been released to city councillors for the first time. However all financial information has been removed from the document.

Councillors have been demanding sight of the contract since it was signed more than three years ago but were told it could not be released due to confidentiality.

It’s unbelievable anyone could advocate the project go ahead in this atmosphere. If the Hennessy report isn’t met with complete transparency, it’s public enquiry time.

I would be interested to see if a plan to carry waste by barge down the river Liffey to the plant will materialise?

I believe Brian J, Goggin has mentioned this before on another thread.

There is this plan already in action on the R. Thames in the UK. I believe it transports around 700,000 T per year by barge, removing the necessity for 100,000 trucks. In addition one truck makes two journeys, one full, one empty.

It may help other counties near Dublin, Kildare etc to move their waste in a economical manner downstream. Certainly the stench at Nass as one travels on the N7 is appalling. I just don’t know how these people live down there. These people are being subjected to torture in some respects.

The idea of transporting waste by barge / canal etc could create employment as well!!

@ Sporthog:

Now the bridge arch clearances for the superstructures of them barges would be: for low water, high water or average water? Form a committee!

Have you got an Envirommental Impact Statement and Foreshoe thingimagy for them barges? If, in the unlikely event they overturned, or whatever – who will do the clean-up? The Corpo?

Thanks for giving me a good laugh.

Brian P

I proposed that the two canals might be used to transport waste from packing stations near the M50; the Liffey could be used from Kingsbridge.

I understand that the maximum capacity of the Poolbeg incinerator is 600,000 tons a year (I’m not sure about that, so will welcome correction). Over 300 days, that’s 2000 tons a day, which is 40 50-ton barge loads (maximum capacity back in the day) or 50 40-ton loads, which might be 20 on each canal and 10 on the Liffey. Both canals link (or will be about to be linked) to the Liffey. Considerable dredging would be required to restore the canals in Dublin to their original depth; freight for the incinerator could provide a reason for such dredging (and would be welcomed by the owners of pleasure-boats that struggle on the canals in Dublin).

Mr Woods may not know that Messrs Guinness used the Liffey for many years to convey their product to ships at the docks; to the best of my knowledge only one of their barges ever sank, an event commemorated in song. The Guinness Liffey barges timed their journeys using a sophisticated mechanism called Tide Tables, versions of which are still available. The Liffey barges also had folding funnels to enable them to get under low bridges, but less drastic exhaust routing would make such funnels unnecessary.

The Thames can take much larger barges. A scheme in Dublin would probably be unable to compete on cost with trucks, but might be worth considering as a way of reducing the impact of many trucks on the inhabitants of Ringsend, Irishtown and regions adjacent thereto.

If back cargoes were available, the economic case would be stronger. Perhaps effluent from the sewage plant, suitably treated to become a fertiliser? The carriage of night-soil is a trade with a long history.


A John Gormley leaflet about the incinerator and his position on it got shoved past our “No Junk Mail” sticker this morning. I’ll try to scan and upload tomorrow.

Ah, the Lady Mairead and the other one (The Lady Margaret?) that used to sit where the shell of the new Anglo HQ is being fed by barge before heading off to replenish the poor souls of Liverpool and Manchester. If it was possible to ship all the beer that could be drunk in those two cities by barge…

Ah, thank you. It was the Miranda Guinness and the Lady Patricia. I used to see them as a lad when heading off to Stillorgan bowl of a friday night through the badlands of the south quays…

I don’t think Miranda Guinness ever played bowls in Still …. Oh, I see what you mean.

@ Brian Woods,

Transporting goods by water is very efficient. In fact it is the only method known to man to carry exteme outsize items effectively. Moving heavy loads by road has many costs, apart from the fuel, noise etc the road has to be repaired.

Even if the world ran out of oil, barges could still be pulled by horses along the canal bank as in the old days etc etc. This is something in tune with what you have been saying many times in relation to peak oil and so on.

Obviously as Brian J. Goggin has mentioned a certain amount of upgrade work would have to be carried out on the existing canal infrastructure. But this is not impossible and has been done before in other countries. I would imagine that there would be plenty of volunteers.

In addition perhaps Heuston train station could be used as a terminal to move waste from down the country to Heuston, then onto barge and down the river etc.

Obviously it would have to be studied in detail, but it has potential. I believe it could be made to work.

If we are going to lock ourselves into feeding a incinerator then we had better stop wingeing about it and get on with the formulating a solution to feed the bloody thing.

I take your point about bureaucracy, I sincerely hope Ireland has not reached the point where we are strangled so much that we are helpless. Pity the nation which cannot help itself because of its bureaucracy.

It would also allow Mr John Gormley to climb down from the corner he has put himself into. He could face his electorate in Ringsend, saying I could not stop the incinerator, but I did stop the trucks.

Just because a contract has been signed doesn’t make it illegal. DCC may have exceeded its legal powers, as may its officials. With the deal still basically secret, there’s no way of knowing.

The proposed incinerator will export all of its ash residue by ship from a dock next to the facility. This is detailed in the Bord Pleanála report. The quantity of ash (fly & bottom ash) is roughly 25% of the weight of input waste. So a waste-to-ship facility is already planned.

As regards a tram to Poolbeg, Dublin City Council produced a development plan for Poolbeg in 2002 recommending that housing for thousands on the peninsula be facilitated by a light rail line. It even compares the different quantum of development possible depending on whether an incinerator is built or not (a hidden project cost).

From 2007-2008, a new plan was written by the Docklands Authority showing alternative routes for Luas connections to facilitate a new city quarter.

As Poolbeg will have a facility to load waste onto boats, it does make you wonder why they don’t float the input waste up river or else float it up or down the coast so that the processing can be done at least a few km away from the largest population centre in the country.

Here’s the link to yesterday’s Gormley leaflet.

On barges, given that barges can be pretty slow plus they’re at water level so unloading is more work, plus you have to get the waste into the barges in the first place, that sounds like a lot of barges in use and a lot of loading and unloading.

I’d work out the logistics in a bit more detail before I started advocating barges. The canals didn’t die off for nothing.

@ Hugh Sheehy,

Granted it would have to be thought out in detail etc etc. But it would be possible, but at what cost economically and so on.

Even if the canals are a no go, the incinerator is based on the coast, a small tractor tug could pull several barges from anywhere in the country to Dublin port, delivering perhaps 1000 T at a time.

@Hugh Sheehy:
It is possible — and I hope I say this without giving offence — that I know more about barges than you do: (a) I have one (converted for pleasure; not available for commercial carrying) and (b) I have been studying certain barge operations for some time.

The Grand Canal Company was profitable when it was nationalised and merged into CIE, which rearranged matters, so as to make the canal seem unprofitable, and then closed down the traffic, within ten years.

I am not suggesting that the GCC’s operations would have continued unchanged to this day. But there are situations in which water transport, even if limited to the relatively small vessels that the Grand and Royal can accommodate, could be used: after all, there are places in the UK where narrowboats, which carry considerably less than a GCC motor-barge, are still in profitable use. With the right equipment, it is no more difficult to load and unload a barge than to do so with a truck. Position baling stations along the canals (and at Kingsbridge) and do the loading there. Manual labour is no longer required.

Given that the waste is not perishable, slowness of delivery is not in itself a problem: it matters only if it increases the wage cost. But there are ways of overcoming even that problem.

If the authorities wanted to consider the idea seriously, I could point them to half a dozen experienced people who could work out the logistics for them in the detail you suggest.


@Brian J.
It is possible you do know more and I do not take offence.

I have used barges, but not canal barges, for commercial purposes. It was a long time ago and the logistics of canal barges are very different from what I was involved in. Canal barges, AFAIK, need to be narrow and shallow and short – which limits their capacity and the capacity of any barge train. River barges could be hugely larger, but the Liffey is not the Seine or the Rhine. Marine barges can be huge, as long as they are only used in fair weather.

I am entirely unopposed to the idea of using canal or river barges or any other type for a purpose like deliveries to a coastal incinerator, even supportive, but not yet convinced.

@Hugh Sheehy:
The last of the Grand Canal Company motor-barges were 61′ 9″ X 13′ 3″, but 61′ X 13′ would probably be a sensible limit, and would work on the Royal too. They might carry 50 tons if the canals were dredged to their original depths, but I suggested 40 tons. Even that would require dredging much closer to the original profile; in recent years Waterways Ireland has set a maximum draught of 4′ (1.2m) for most of the canal but only 2′ 6″ in Dublin.

I realise that Irish barges are much, much smaller than continental barges, but a 40-ton load is not to be despised. I also accept that, by commercial standards, the operation would be unlikely to be economic; the question is whether the reduction in truck traffic is worth anything. But even at that I don’t at all disagree with your earlier comment that the logistics would need to be worked out, as well as the economics.

I think I’d have the barges unmanned but radio-controlled by lockkeepers …. Work twenty down each canal as quickly as the water allows, form trains on the Liffey and tow them down to Poolbeg ….. Could be a lot of fun.

@hogan mahew:
Do you mean “born” or “borne”? But I recommend steam tugs in either case.


@ Cap’n Goggin,

Well there you go then. You might just be onto something, I wonder will anything ever come out of this idea.

It would be great if something constructive did materialise.

@Brian J
Again, it’d be a nice option if it’s workable. At 2000 tonnes a day and 40 tonnes a load that’s a lot of traffic and a lot of lock movements every day…each and every day. Can the water supplies handle it? How much would it cost to re-dredge the canals? How many barges in total would you need, since I guess it’d take well over a day for the round trips

It’d be interesting to see it worked out.

The entire output of the first decades of the industrial revolution would probably fit in one modern containership. (I’m guessing wildly, but you know what I mean)

“@hogan mahew:
Do you mean “born” or “borne”? But I recommend steam tugs in either case.”
Yes… the canal boats were the original mass transport of the industrial revolution, they both bore the loads and the revolution was born with them…

@Hugh Sheehy
“(I’m guessing wildly, but you know what I mean)”
You are guessing wildly.

All we have to deal with in non-recyclable rubbish. Or recyclable rubbish and small children to make up the quota.

The water supply question is a good one, and at present the Royal almost certainly couldn’t handle it as no adequate supply has yet been secured (arrangements are, we are told, being worked on). Back-pumping is of course an option: it is used at the western end of the Grand and is proposed for the Ulster. There is also provision for pumping up from the Liffey.

I made a guess earlier of 20 boats per day (over 300 days a year) on each canal plus 10 on the Liffey; at 40 tons each, that gives 600,000 tons a year. However, I don’t think you’d ever get rid of trucks altogether, so the total carried by barge would be lower. The peak traffic inwards for the Grand may have been the 180,000 tons or so carried in to Dublin in 1844.

You could do the one-way trip on the Grand inside a day if you weren’t held up queueing at locks, so again your point about logistics is valid: it must be possible to manage lock movements better than in 1844. Taking the M50 as the starting point, the Royal has fewer (but deeper) locks. But I think you’d have to provide for three days’ barges (oh joy) on the canals and two on the Liffey (shorter journey but more affected by current and tide).

I don’t know what the dredging would cost, but some has been done in recent years, albeit probably not to original profile.

Pleasure boats would have to fit in around the commercial passages.

One factor worth mentioning is that we are already paying for the maintenance and upkeep of the canals in Dublin. Waterways Ireland recently commissioned a study of what might be done with them; it came up with lots of what I regard as stupid ideas (you can download it from I think that carrying waste would provide a better return if, as you say, it’s workable.


@Hugh Sheehy
Thanks. The link now works.

That’s quite some spin by the Minister.

“He remains opposed to this proposal not because he is a local TD but because it is incompatible with a sustainable national waste policy.” Never mind that it is compatible with national waste policy, and that the Minister has been tardy with reforming that policy.

I presume he must mean that the current government’s national waste policy is not a sustainable national waste policy.

Since he is committed to sustainability and since he has been unable to change govt policy despite being the MoE for more than two years I presume he will now immediately resign from the government whose policy he disagrees with.


Well, the current policy is sustainable too, at least if we believe the Dept Environ ment etc:
“The [current national waste] policy is firmly grounded in an internationally recognised hierarchy of options, namely prevention, minimisation, reuse/recycling, and the environmentally sustainable disposal of waste which cannot be prevented or recovered.”

I’m confused now….isn’t Gormley the Minister for the Environment?

Ouch. My brain is aching.


Are you happy for construction to proceed on the basis of a secret contract not subject to democratic oversight? A contract the legality of which cannot be estabilished?

@ Richard

I see the Minister’s policy as reasonably well guided and well informed. I believe that it is the administartive section of his own Department that is refusing to implement what are sensible sustainable policies. I believe my only difference of view is that I beleive that we do need incineration not just the amounnt being suggested by DCC.

On the levy front I have checked two items 1. The Danes do apply a levy on incineration, initially it was on the acceptance of the waste at the gate, but now it is linked to the energy use by the consumer and the CO2 emission of the plant, but guess what – It equates to approx €40 – €50 / tonne for the tonnes delivered for incineration and 2. The Danes apply this tax because their recycling rate on Household Waste is only 41% i.e. comparable with ours (Danish EPA 2008 figures – summary is in English). Yes when they take C&D waste and other wastes into acount they can publish a figure like 60% but so can we.

Fianlly Denmark has almost 40 years of combustion and district heating under their belt and it works quite well with thousands of miles of pipes now in place. Poolbeg is being considered for 3- 4 miles of pipe to feed a development that might now never happen. You cannot compare the two options – even you know this Richard.

The waste Framework directive enshrines the waste hierarchy in our law from 2010. New targets will be published over the next few years – a giant over sized incinerator will prevent us meeting these targets.

By the way Ricahrd are you ready to admit that we will meet our landfill Targets for this year that you said we wouldn’t meet?

Covanta writes off its entire investment on the Poolbeg project in its 3Q results released today.

See the 8-K filing listed on this page:

Covanta CEO Tony Orlando said today in a conference call with investors: “At this point we intend to move forward only after project financing is secured, and given the uncertainty created by the environment, we have determined it is appropriate from an accounting perspective to write off our entire investment, net of recoverable amounts.”

The write off is € 16.5m net after € 5.3m recoverable by way of project insurance.

Mr Orlando also said because all contractual conditions had not been reached by last month’s deadline: ‘that means we have no obligation to proceed with the project on the original terms.’

Interesting that Covanta chooses to write off the project despite DCC getting ABP approval for their compulsory purchase of the foreshore.

The cost of walking away therefore is less than € 20m.

The expensive site can now be used to provide a proper tertiary treatment expansion of the Ringsend Waste Water Treatment plant instead of pumping secondary effluent out into Dublin Bay.


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