The UK produces almost 300 million tonnes of waste every year.
While the Government and industry already work together to minimise the amount produced, it is inevitable that there will always be waste in some shape or form. To that end, it is vital we use the waste produced as a valuable and reliable source of energy and usable products.
This fact has been well documented, and it is safe to say the waste industry agrees that this is a course of action that must be pursued wholeheartedly. But is the UK ready to harness waste’s full potential? And do we have the infrastructure, knowhow, legislation and, perhaps most importantly, the financial support to really make the most of our waste?
Remondis UK sends its clients’ waste to other Remondis-owned plants across the globe, whether our German plant at Lünen, which takes in non-hazardous powders for the production of the gypsum-based building material Radibin; our plant in Bramsche, which takes in waste to produce the patented product Renotherm; or to one of our UK facilities, such as SecAnim, which is dedicated to the production of processed animal proteins.
Such a variety of sites means we can make the most of our clients’ waste and not send it to landfill. But this ability is currently an exception rather than the norm, and should not be the case if we are to make the most of the resources available.
As an industry, we need to have the space and investment to process waste in a way that can help to meet energy demands, as well as creating completely new products for use in manufacturing and construction. More needs to be done to make use in the UK market of energy from waste (EfW), such as refusederived fuel and solid recovered fuel, rather than exporting overseas.
But we are not yet in a position to make the most of this in the UK. EfW infrastructure can take considerable time and significant financial investment to develop, which means the export market still remains an environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution.
A large volume of the waste we collect in the UK is sent on to our plants, such as Lünen. More than 1.5 million tonnes of waste is pro- Educate and formalise for a billion pound prize Policy European experience offers pointers to the education, investment and policy needed in the UK for it to deliver growth in the waste sector, says Marcus Bauer European view: Remondis benefits greatly from its continental sites cessed there each year, generating around 770,000 tonnes of high-quality products for reuse or resale. Of course, such a 230ha site takes time to develop, and it is unlikely the same scale of facility will be operational in the UK for many years.
In order to emulate the examples set by our European counterparts, significant efforts to educate both the industry and producers need to be made, at every level. In other countries, policies and standards are in place to ensure that everyone has the knowledge and channels available to make the most of waste streams. In addition, policy and guidance are in place to help people reuse, repurpose and recycle.
There is also an argument that the policy and guidance for waste as a resource should be moved from Defra’s portfolio of responsibilities and into the hands of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills so that it can be treated in a manner that will maximise its economic potential. If this is the case, a proper strategy for growth must be drawn up in advance, with a long-term view and stable policy.
The opportunities for exploiting waste as a resource are vast. While many companies are already harnessing the opportunity, there is much more that can be done. The UK waste industry and its representative government agencies must understand the economic gains that could be made from waste. This can only happen if the policy and legislative framework is clear and potential financiers have confidence in the security of their investments.
There is a billion pound prize waiting, and the UK needs to take lessons from its European counterparts before time is up and the opportunity is lost.
Marcus Bauer is managing director of Remondis UK