The Institute of Civil Engineers has estimated that 1,700 new non landfill waste management facilities will be required over the next few years to meet the Landfill Directive diversion targets. These facilities will include material recycling facilities (MRFs), composting plants and residual treatment technologies.
The key stages that are usually involved in developing such facilities include the identification of possible sites and potential waste technology providers, obtaining planning permission and, finally, licensing or permitting.
Considerable challenges are associated with each phase of this development.
The proximity principle dictates that waste should be treated and disposed near to its place of generation. However, public pressure at local level, political agendas and the desire to site these facilities away from centres of population, often hinders this process.
While existing facilities such as landfills may have spare land that can be developed, separate parcels of land are often difficult to acquire when competing with other potentially more lucrative development options and are expensive to secure.
To address this problem a number of regional assemblies are carrying out site identification programmes. However, further work is required to find a sufficient number of sites throughout the UK.
There are few waste treatment plants in the UK, so many waste treatment options are unproven. Information on operational capabilities, associated costs and handling of residuals, is often based upon perceived performance rather than real data. Also, obtaining unbiased information can be difficult as each technology provider promotes its own system.
This usually makes the identification of a preferred waste technology provider a protracted and expensive exercise. The cost of submitting tenders can be prohibitive for private contractors and this limits choice, drives up contract costs as contractors seek to recoup upfront expenditure, and ultimately may fail to deliver the most sustainable solution.
The lack of baseline sites within the UK also provides significant challenges when trying to obtain the appropriate planning, licences and permits. These include the assessment of the environmental risks associated with the proposed development. Without baseline information, it is only possible to predict what the potential environmental impacts of the plant may be. As a result of this, the perceived risks, which may be considerably higher than the actual risks, could dominate the granting of permissions, licences and permits.
In addition, the lack of suitably experienced personnel in operators, consultancies and regulators could also prove to be a barrier to development. While knowledge of landfill and its potential impacts is extensive, there is a considerable period of catch-up required for professionals working in the waste management field.
It is clear that the lack of information on all aspects of non-landfill waste treatment facilities is at the root of many of the challenges ahead. It is essential that those involved are either educated themselves in the processes and issues or that they employ a consultant who is.
The emphasis now must be on technology providers - they need to