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Feature: Market forces

Steve Whatmore wants your waste. "Waste," he declares, "is not a problem - it is an opportunity." And his enthusiasm stems from a full-scale demonstration facility, which he says will meet the requirements of waste disposal authorities.

Born from research and development undertaken by Fairport Engineering, the Orchid process solution has been trialled on a Department of Trade and Industry- funded project, and is now preferred bidder for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) new technology programme.

According to company director Whatmore, what Orchid is doing is different. Rather than building a machine to handle waste, the company first finds a marketplace that defines the specification of a product, then finds the feedstock.

"We are looking for long-term solutions and to help the waste industry meet its targets and also trying to find solutions to today's problems," he says. "We are having to deal with the challenge of the definition of waste. If you look at the UK just three or four years ago, landfill was the predominant method of dealing with waste, and now we must get over the legislative hurdles if we are going to find a long-term solution."

According to Whatmore, in the UK there are a number of barriers to developing sustainable waste solutions: funding, legislation, markets for products, public perception and the novelty of new technology.

"We need a range of solutions to overcome these barriers," he says. "In terms of funding, there is too much attention given to proven technologies. We have been successful in getting funding from the Government, but there just isn't enough on the table. Legislation is being addressed - we are not trying to change the law but to interpret the definitions. But, it's being made artificially difficult to take products to market."

The key to the Orchid approach is finding the market before you start making the products. With the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme now in full swing, local authorities must divert waste from landfill.

To do this, they must gather material for reprocessors but, ultimately, they must sell this material otherwise the chain breaks down and the unwanted material goes to landfill anyway. There must be a range of markets that will pay for the products.

"The system we have is the simplest process possible, driven by the end user," says Whatmore. "An alternative is needed by 2008 when landfill contracts expire. With planning and procurement taking up to 18 months, time is clearly running out - local authorities need a technology that best suits their business plans."

Local authorities are bombarded by information on technology. To divert waste from landfill they have to address composting, anaerobic digestion, mechanical biological technology, refuse-derived fuel and, of course, the somewhat involved debate surrounding incineration.

Whatmore is clearly frustrated by what he sees as a range of obstacles hindering the progress of technology in the waste sector. With time against us, he says the UK needs grown-up solutions to face the waste problem: "We are looking at an integrated waste solution - some landfill, composting, kerbside, plus the treatment of residual waste. In five years' time we will wonder what it was we were debating about."

The key to Orchid's success, says Whatmore, has been the development of a biomass density separator that has been designed to remove all contaminants such as metals, glass and plastics from the output products, and

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