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EfW drive 'could compromise recycling targets'

A “fixation” on energy-from-waste (EfW) plants in the UK could compromise the ability to reach recycling targets, says a major recycling equipment manufacturer.

Steve Almond, sales engineer with Tomra Sorting Recycling, wrote to MRW in response to the recent construction of high-capacity EfWs, such as Viridor’s Trident Park facility in south Wales (pictured). The full letter is here.

“Our industry’s current fixation on EfW as the solution for our waste really worries me,” he said. “The opening of this new [Trident Park] plant also rings a number of alarm bells for me and, I’m sure, others in the recycling industry.”

Almond said that although EfW has a role to play in the UK’s waste management industry, investment should be directed towards material recovery for recycling first, so that only the remaining untreatable refuse is used in energy production. 

The south Wales facility, which formally opened in June, has the capacity to process 350,000 tonnes of waste a year.

Around 50% of the material will be coming from five councils that make up the Prosiect Gwyrdd partnership: Caerphilly, Cardiff, Monmouthshire, Newport and Vale of Glamorgan. The rest will be acquired from additional commercial contracts.

With Wales aiming to reach a recycling target of 70% by 2024-25, Trident Park would process 22% of all waste generated in the country if used at full capacity. This would be classified as ‘recovery’ under the waste hierarchy.

A spokesperson for Prosiect Gwyrdd said that incinerator bottom ash resulting from the plant’s operations will be recycled and would contribute 5% towards the total Welsh recycling target.

“By working in partnership between five councils, we also have more flexibility between uson the amount of waste we can send to the plant,” he said.

Chris Jonas, Viridor’s director of business development, said: “Europe has thrown away old thinking about waste and is recognising its value as a resource.

“A circular economy won’t be a binary one and absolutes are the enemy of progress. In 2014-15 Viridor completed around £875m-worth of investment in UK recycling and decentralised energy infrastructure, releasing over one million tonnes of essential new resource recovery and landfill diversion capacity to Britain. 

“It’s that investment – advanced recycling facilities, anaerobic digestion and an integrated network of energy recovery facilities – that is today helping to drive sustainability and moves towards a new EU package.”

Senior consultants from Eunomia recently called on Defra to introduce policy measures that would “damp down” the EfW sector to bolster recycling rates.

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