COUNCIL bosses say Cheshire must have some form of incinerator to meet tough waste targets - or face fines running into millions of pounds.
Europe is demanding more sustainable management practices to reduce waste, increase recycling and reduce landfill needs, with every local authority required to cut the growth of waste and achieve 40% recycling by 2010 - and 50% by 2020.
Cllr Andrew Needham, Cheshire County Council's executive member for environment and waste says some form of incineration is still needed.
Speaking after it was announced the council was tendering for a energy-from-waste plant in the county, he said: 'We are aiming to achieve a 40% recycle rate in Cheshire and eventually 50%, but it won't be enough and the fines for not reducing the amount of waste going to landfill would be millions and millions of pounds.
'There have been extensive consultations and the great majority have accepted that, if necessary, after we've recycled as much as possible, energy recovery is an acceptable alternative.'
Cheshire produces an estimated 2.5m tonnes of waste per year. Some of the county's waste contracts expire in early 2008 and work on securing contracts for waste treatment plants, including an energy-from-waste plant through a private finance initiative (PFI) contract, are set to begin.
Cllr Needham has recently returned as a member of a 20-strong study group from a visit to Germany to observe their similar approach to waste management.
He hopes German companies will bid to build such a plant in Cheshire and, if so, they will be up against Ineos Chlor in Runcorn and Peel Holdings at Ince Marsh, both of which are looking at building energy-from-waste plants.
Cllr Needham said: 'The project has the support of the district councils and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), which successfully submitted a bid for £40m worth of PFI credits for Cheshire. Everyone is focusing positively on the way forward. We have got to get our plans right for the long-term good.'
But Jonathan Guy, secretary of the Cheshire Anti-Incinerator Network (CHAIN), says the councillor's time would have been better spent on a fact-finding visit to California, which is aiming towards 'zero waste' - making the need for an incinerator redundant.
CHAIN is fighting the inclusion of land at Lostock in the county's waste plan as being suitable for an energy-from-waste plant, and Mr Guy said: 'Claims that the majority of people support incineration is untrue. There is no mandate from the people of Cheshire and to suggest otherwise is absolute rubbish.'
Lostock councillor and CHAIN campaigner Ann McEllin added: 'Right from the word 'go' the outcome seems to have been predetermined so that Cheshire will have some form of energy-from-waste plant, even though it has held public consultations and in this people said they were prepared to pay extra not to have an incinerator.
'It just seems to be going down that road and there doesn't seem to be anything we or anyone can say to change its mind.'