Industry experts have warned energy-from-waste facilites (EfW) could be hit with excessive monitoring costs following plans to stop certain recyclable materials from being used for energy production.
The Environment Bill White Paper, put forward by Welsh minister for natural resources and food Alun Davies, recommends banning a wide range of materials from incineration.
EfW facility operators would be responsible for rejecting material, with the exception of anaerobic digestion facilities.
Ricardo-AEA resource efficiency and waste management practice director Dr Adam Read told MRW that determining the allowable level of contamination at an EfW site could be difficult.
He said: “A ban is only as good as the monitoring and enforcement that is in place to ensure that all of the target materials get diverted – this can be costly and outweigh the benefits of the ban compared to other ‘carrot-like’ interventions.”
He said controlling feedstock quality from multiple sources would be problematic and added: “In some parts of the UK the energy demand may be more important than the resource need, and the costs of recycling and logistics may be higher than generating energy.”
He concluded that “careful consideration” was essential before any ban is put in place.
The warning was echoed by Ian Williams, professor of applied environmental science at the University of Southampton. Williams also said research from Denmark suggested incineration of some materials, including paper, can have a lower carbon footprint in comparison to recycling if the material is only recycled into a low-grade product.
Despite their concerns both Read and Williams said the proposals would push these materials up the waste hierarchy.
Read said: “Banning target materials will always provide a boost to their diversion. Strong political leadership does help drive the right types of behaviour - the sector will respond positively as it is a clear message of intent.”
Williams said: “Some companies’ practice of deeming ‘clean’ recyclates as ‘contaminated’ at materials recycling facilities, which results in them being sent to EfW facilities, would also come under intense scrutiny.”
He added that the plans clearly supported the extension of separate collections in Wales.
Brian Mayne, Ricardo-AEA regional director Wales, added that according to the Welsh Government this and other proposals would provide a £66m benefit to Wales, an additional 2.8 million tonnes of recycled materials and a CO2 equivalent abatement of 2.7 million tonnes over a ten-year period.
Shlomo Dowen, national co-ordinator of campaign group UK Without Incineration Network, welcomed the proposals as part of an overall Welsh strategy to improve collections, but added: “Let us hope that similar measures come forward for improving the approach used in England.”
If the ban was to take effect, it would not be enforced until January 2017, according to the Welsh Government.
The ban would apply to materials from all sources including households, commercial and industrial premises and construction and demolition businesses. Proposed banned materials include:
- uncontaminated paper and card
- untreated wood
- food waste
EfW inputs already controlled by Viridor
Waste management company Viridor has been granted planning permission for a £105m incinerator at Trident Park, Cardiff.
Dick Turner, Viridor director of EfW, said: “Viridor supports the Welsh Government’s objectives in supporting upstream activities where practical, including a firm focus on enhanced recycling.
“The consultation, broadly in line with Scotland, aligns policy with our existing Trident Park EfW permit. The permit already controls inputs, noting the appropriateness of EfW to manage contaminated fractions and material which ‘can not be practically recycled or reused and would otherwise be destined for landfill’.”
Turner highlighted the need for guidance in this area.