The long-term viability of exports of waste-derived fuels from the British Isles has been questioned by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), which is also concerned at the quality of the material.
A CIWM report, ‘Research into SRF and RDF exports to other EU countries’ was carried out by the consultancy AMEC Environment & Infrastructure UK and raises three major areas of concern over the export from the UK and Ireland of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and solid-recovered fuel (SRF).
The first is the risk to the current market of newer EU member states rapidly increasing their landfill diversion rates, which could result in more waste-derived fuel in the EU market. The report says this could impact on demand for such fuel from the UK and Ireland and concludes that reliance on exports in the longer term, as well as insufficient capacity for domestic energy from waste (EfW), is a risk.
CIWM is also concerned about the quality of RDF exports. The report notes that while SRF tends to benefit from being treated to an agreed standard, most RDF receiving facilities require no quality threshold.
It says that an improved regulatory framework is necessary to ensure that unsorted or inadequately sorted waste cannot be exported as RDF. This regulatory ‘grey area’ could continue to provide a loophole for illegal operators and encourage minimal sorting even by some legitimate parties.
The third key area raised is a failure to capitalise on EfW domestically when high energy costs and resource security are an increasing worry. CIWM says policy makers are failing to take account of this energy source and suggest exported RDF/SRF could contribute up to 5% of the UK and Ireland’s renewable energy targets.
The report also said that while export was a cost-effective means of diverting waste from landfill, it does not create greater resource efficiency in the longer term and could negatively impact on the development of domestic recovery and recycling infrastructure.
CIWM chief executive Steve Lee said: “In the short term, CIWM believes that a more rigorous and consistent enforcement framework needs to be put in place, and further work done to assess the viability of developing a classification system or minimum pre-treatment standard for RDF.
“In addition to ensuring that illegal activities are curbed, we believe this is an essential measure to ensure that valuable material resources are not being lost to the domestic reprocessing industry and the UK/Irish economy as a whole.”
He added: “In the longer term, we need to better understand and quantify the extent to which this trade could compromise investment in domestic infrastructure and the UK and Ireland’s ability to fulfil their obligations with regard to moving waste up the hierarchy and a more resource efficient and circular economy.”
The Environmental Services Association economist, Jacob Hayler, called for tougher regulation on the storage of RDF.
“RDF export has given the UK the flexibility to divert waste from landfill at acceptable cost despite an ongoing shortage of domestic residual treatment capacity,” he said. “In the short term, this could continue to be a valuable option for the UK while we develop the facilities which will help us to become self sufficient in our waste treatment.
“Additional UK facilities would also reduce the loss of a domestic energy source at a time of gathering unease over the robustness of the UK energy supply.