Senior consultants from Eunomia have called on Defra to “damp down” the energy-from-waste (EfW) sector to bolster recycling rates.
The consultancy’s head of energy Adam Baddeley and senior consultant Chris Cullen said on the Isonomia blog: “Defra’s retreat from supporting waste treatment through PFI does not seem to have dampened down the market, while the Green Investment Bank (GIB) has stepped in to help fill the funding gap.”
They say there is a substantial potential pipeline of new capacity for several years ahead, echoing the conclusion of Eunomia’s regular review of infrastructure capacity.
Chairman Dominic Hogg has previously criticised the GIB for investing too heavily in EfW and anaerobic digestion plants.
Although the 10 GIB-backed waste plants have a combined treatment capacity of 1.935 million tonnes per annum (tpa), Eunomia research found that only 55,000 tpa (3% of the total) was for recycling.
Baddeley and Cullen urge Defra to send “a clear signal” by turning its attention to supporting recycling and “properly implementing the waste hierarchy”.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Figures for 2014 show that we are recycling more than ever before while the amount of waste sent to landfill continues to fall, reflecting a lot of hard work by local authorities and a desire from householders to recycle more.
“We remain committed to building on this success by recycling 50% our household waste by 2020, and are working with local authorities and industry to promote best practice.”
The Isonomia blog asserts that, even if all RDF exports cease by 2021, the continuing fall in residual waste tonnages will mean EfW overcapacity by 2021.
“The extent of overcapacity will increase thereafter: even allowing for growth in overall arisings, a 70% recycling rate in 2030 (within the projected lifespan of most UK incinerators) would leave only 11 million tpa of residual waste to feed more than 20 million tpa of treatment capacity.”
But long-term contracts with local authorities could ensure that some of the facilities can maintain profitable operations at the expense of the taxpayer.
“Thanks to the long-term, high-price deals that many local authorities and some commercial operators have signed, facilities backed by secure income streams will be able to turn a profit, even operating below capacity,” they said.
Latest household recycling figures have shown that the rate for 2014 increased to a record high of 44.8%, up from 44.2% in 2013 overall, but still stalling on the rate needed to hit the 50% target by 2020.