Environmentally friendly Danes wonder what all the fuss is about

Treacy Hogan in Copenhagen

RESIDENTS in the Copenhagen suburb of Glostrop have never heard of John Gormley.

They are blissfully unaware of the Environment Minister's dogged opposition to an incinerator planned for his Ringsend backyard in Dublin.

Their backyard contains the Vestforbraending plant, the biggest of Denmark's 29 waste-to-energy plants.

There are many similarities between Vestforbraending and the controversial municipal incinerator planned for Poolbeg in the heart of Ringsend.

Both are located in an industrial area in a suburb of a city, surrounded by housing estates. A big general hospital is 3km down the road. Both serve broadly similar populations, and are designed to convert 600,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste into district heating and energy every year.

The Danes, one of the most environmentally friendly nations, have long since moved away from landfilling their rubbish, a practice universally discredited as it creates environmental timebombs stored up for generations to come.

There has been much valid criticism of the operation of the older generation of incinerators in Europe, focusing mainly on the release of cancer- causing dioxins.

However, the operators of the new generation plants insist the upgraded models catch most of these pollutants, which would previously have escaped from the giant smokestack which dominates the Copenhagen skyline.

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency has backed the Poolbeg plant, and, along with other scientific authorities, insists far more dioxins are released from uncontrolled backyard burning of rubbish, domestic fires and barbecues than from modern incinerators.


Denmark, with its 5.5 million people, has 29 such plants that convert waste into electricity and heat.

In Denmark, 65pc of all waste is recycled, 25pc is incinerated, and just 10pc goes to landfill. Back home in Ireland, we throw most of it into giant holes in the ground and hope a plastic lining will stop all those nasty pollutants from escaping into the water table in years to come. Or, in a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem, we send our waste abroad for others to incinerate.

In 2008 Vestforbraending incinerated around 563,000 tonnes of waste.

Because the energy from the waste incineration is used in the production of power and district heating, it thus substitutes fossil fuels elsewhere.

Covanta project director Jens Kragholm said the amount of dioxins that would be emitted during the entire lifetime of the Poolbeg plant, some 35 years, would still be less than one fireworks display.

That's about the size of it. No conspiracy. No panic. That's according to the Danish EPA as well.