Bristol, UK — Environmental consultant Eunomia has released the twelfth issue of the Residual Waste Infrastructure Review. It highlights the significant growth in residual waste treatment capacity that has taken place in the United Kingdom since Eunomia started tracking facility development in 2009.
The report finds that:
- since 2009/10, the UK has more than doubled its residual waste treatment capacity, which has increased from 6.3 million tonnes to 13.5 million tonnes.
- over the same period, the quantity of residual waste suitable for treatment has fallen from an estimated 30 million tonnes per annum (tpa) to 26 million tpa.
- there is a lack of clear, reliable data for commercial and industrial waste – and as the gap between treatment capacity and arisings closes, the need for better information becomes increasingly urgent.
Treatment capacity will exceed the available waste quantity
With more facilities still in the construction pipeline, the report forecasts that the UK’s supply of treatment capacity will exceed the available quantity of residual waste in 2020/21. Were all facilities to operate at full capacity, together they would limit the UK’s recycling rate to no more than 63 per cent.
Developers remain interested in the UK market, seeing opportunities to out-compete existing facilities on price – or perhaps assuming that, outside the EU, the UK will focus less on resource efficiency. However, it appears that any further development of residual facilities would either further constrain recycling, or lead to some facilities operating below capacity.
Two future scenarios
The report considers two future scenarios, based on the different policy directions available to the UK government.
- In Scenario 1, the UK continues to apply current and planned EU recycling targets, which leads to further reductions in residual waste.
- In Scenario 2, the UK meets existing (household) recycling targets for 2020; thereafter, household recycling rates remain through to 2030, while there is a modest increase in Commercial & Industrial (C&I) recycling rates.
In both scenarios, the UK reaches excess capacity in 2020/21, assuming that Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) exports continue at today’s levels.
Scenario 1 sees the level of excess residual treatment capacity rise to 9.5 million tonnes by 2030/31 as increasing amounts of waste are recycled. More surprisingly, in Scenario 2, despite little progress on recycling, the UK’s current committed treatment capacity appears to be sufficient for the residual waste likely to require treatment in 2030/31 – even if no waste were to be exported as RDF.
Tough competition for residual waste
In both scenarios, Eunomia now includes a figure of around 2 million tonnes for ‘unavoidable’ landfill. Some active waste will be produced in areas too remote or without the necessary logistics infrastructure to be economically transported to a waste treatment facility. Other active material may be unsuitable or unsafe for treatment – or mixed with material of this kind.
Senior Consultant and report author Harriet Parke said: “Our latest report shows that the UK continues inexorably towards the point where we have more residual waste treatment capacity than we need. If facilities already in construction are built, and only these, we think the UK could still recycle some 63 per cent of waste, but if just 40 per cent of what is in planning was also built, the recycling rate could be further limited to 57 per cent. The new Secretary of State has signalled a renewed strategy on waste and resources: It could hardly be more timely to commit England, and the UK, to developing a resource efficient economy that focuses activity at the upper tiers of the waste hierarchy. This would help clarify to investors and developers just how tough competition for residual waste is likely to be in future, and signal a need to refocus funding and activity accordingly.”
The report also estimates the current and future residual waste treatment ‘capacity gap’ across Northern Europe. Currently, waste arisings exceed treatment capacity by some 57 million tonnes, but the report forecasts that, thanks to changes in existing directives that are expected at the EU level, the gap will be reduced to zero by 2028. By 2030, there would be an excess supply of treatment capacity of 8.7 million tpa.