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Defra challenged on England waste infrastructure capacity

Researchers at Imperial College London have concluded that some English regions will be underequipped to process waste in the run up to 2020, and criticised the methodology used by Defra to forecast waste infrastructure capacity.

In total, they forecast England will have a capacity gap of over 11 million tonnes by 2020.

The research (file right) was commissioned by Veolia Environmental Services to “achieve a clearer understanding of the UK needs”.

A Defra forecasting report published in February 2013, then revised in October, indicated that England will have more than enough capacity to meet an EU target of landfilling only 35% of waste on 1995 levels by 2020.

A team from Imperial College’s Centre For Environmental Policy led by Dr Nick Voulvoulis (above right) assessed the data and methodology used by Defra and concluded the department forecast was “rather misleading” because it did not take into account different waste streams and variance in regional infrastructure.

On the basis of the same figures on household and commercial and industrial waste collected by local authorities used by Defra and the same data on infrastructure capacity, researchers analysed waste arisings by materials stream in England’s nine regions and the treatment capacity available locally.

They concluded that there are already “significant capacity gaps” at a regional level. The report said there was a lack of energy-from-waste capacity in the South West and in the East of England.

It also found recycling capacity is limited in the North East, while anaerobic digestion/composting facilities are available in all regions.

Despite the forecast of an 11 million tonne capacity gap in the UK as a whole, the report stressed that Defra should not be looking at the national picture, but at local needs.

“The aggregation of waste composition and treatment capacity nationally may disguise regional variations and lead to the assumption that one region’s surplus can meet another region’s deficit,” said the report.

“[This study highlights] that the cost and practical implications of long-distance haulage should be further investigated before decision are taken.”

The researchers described as “problematic” the use of Defra’s own overcapacity findings to justify reduction in funding for new waste treatment plants, “particularly where decisions were taken without an assessment of the performance of existing capacity or the viability of planned/proposed capacity”.

Richard Kirkman, technical director at Veolia Environmental Services (above left), said that the findings of the report will be presented to Defra.

He added the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT), which in the past warned about infrastructure shortfall, had also expressed interest in taking the study further.

Kirkman said: “The report crystallises concerns that instead of being at the forefront of the circular economy we will have insufficient resource recovery infrastructure in the future and hamper the growth of the green manufacturing sector – a 20-year mistake.”


Readers' comments (2)

  • Well, well, well. What a surprise. Its now well known that DEFRA were simply told by Treasury to find some savings in their budget, already overspent from flood defence and dealing with the horsemeat scandal. So some PFI's had to be sacrificed. DEFRA's biggest single mistake was inaccuracy, and they fabricated a bunch of distorted facts to back up a futile argument that the UK already had enough EfW capacity to meet our 2020 targets for landfill diversion. As this recent work proves, that conclusion was massively wrong. As well as totally missing the point that individual EfW plants are primarily built to service local waste management needs, not national landfill diversion targets.

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  • A greater degree of source separation might reduce the need for EFW.

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