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EfW overcapacity to hamper 2030 recycling performance

Recycling rates in the UK cannot exceed 66% because of overcapacity in energy-from-waste facilities, Eunomia has said in the latest review of national infrastructure.

In the seventh issue of the consultancy’s biannual report, analysis has been extended from 2020 to 2030 to assess the likelihood of the UK meeting the proposed 70% recycling target included in the European Commission’s circular economy package released in July.

Eunomia argues that the UK may not be able to reach this target because the availability of EfW infrastructure will limit recycling rates.

It says the country currently has a residual waste treatment capacity gap of 14.3 million tonnes, but this will decrease over time and become a surplus of 2.5 million tonnes by 2019 - which would widen to 16.4 million tonnes by 2031.

This assumes that UK’s annual capacity of some 17.7 million tonnes, operational or under construction, remains constant until 2030; that the UK makes steady progress towards recycling targets; and that waste arisings continue to fall.

“Instead of committing further resources to expensive residual waste treatment, we should be looking at how to derive greater value from our waste through recycling,” said Adam Baddeley, the report’s lead author.

“There are clearly investment opportunities in the waste sector, but it no longer seems wise to commit to more incineration that may not be needed for all of its working life.”

Eunomia’s outlook on infrastructure is in contrast with the views of consultancy Ricardo-AEA, the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management, Sita UK and Veolia, which have published reports arguing that the gap in residual waste treatment capacity will reduce but continue exist in 2020.

The Green Investment Bank has also said some £5m could be invested in energy recovery infrastructure.

Defra’s conclusions are similar to Eunomia’s position. The department recently withdrew PFI credits from an EfW project in Hertfordshire after a review of capacity concluded the UK had already more than enough to reach the 2020 landfill diversion targets set by the EU.

  • Last paragraph updated 28 November to modify the connection between the conclusions of Defra and Eunomia

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