Major new waste centre proposed
A major centre to recycle and turn waste into energy is set to be built near Belfast.
A planning application has been submitted on behalf of 11 local councils in the east of Northern Ireland for the £240 million project.
If approved, it could contribute more than £24 million to the economy a year and create hundreds of jobs, proponents behind the scheme have said.
But environmentalists warned of toxins released during treatment of waste and said greater recycling efforts should be made.
Ricky Burnett, policy and operations director at the organisation representing the local authorities, arc21, said waste was a resource.
He said: "While we will continue to pursue challenging recycling targets, there will always be residual waste remaining, which we must stop sending to landfill.
"There is an economic and environmental imperative to do so, to meet European landfill diversion targets, possible landfill bans and to avoid potentially heavy fines."
At the Mallusk site, anything which can be recycled like metal or plastics will be sorted out and the residue incinerated and used to heat water.
James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland, said toxins were released during the incineration process.
He added: "These are very power-hungry bits of kit that require considerable amounts of waste to be delivered for many years.
"These schemes require very long-term commitments of waste to be incinerated.
"Packaging is being reduced, we simply won't be producing the waste in the future with the energy scarcity.
"You could argue that the future will be very different and many countries are going for 80-90% recycling, that is the future."
According to an assessment by Oxford Economics cited by the developers, the project will create or sustain approximately 340 permanent direct or indirect jobs when operational.
It will also contribute over £24 million gross value added per year to Northern Ireland's economy.
Up to 455 direct construction jobs are expected.
Mr Burnett added: "This project will help maximise the value from waste by significantly reducing our dependency on landfill and improving the security and diversity of energy production in Northern Ireland."
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said air quality in the Belfast basin has already been highlighted as very poor, especially in high pressure weather conditions when the fumes cannot escape and collect over Belfast.
He added: "Add to this the predicted hundreds of lorry journeys each and every day through the heart of this community transporting large amounts of waste and it is clear that any incinerator is a bad idea.
"The long-term viability is extremely questionable and we could soon become a net importer of waste from other jurisdictions.
"Sinn Fein are against the process of incineration across Ireland as a method of dealing with waste."