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Future Britain may be over-endowed with residual waste infrastructure

The latest review of the UK’s residual waste infrastructure by consultancy Eunomia indicates that there will be surplus capacity to treat residual waste by 2019-20.

The review anticipates that total processing capacity will reach 23.9 million tonnes per year (tpa) by 2019-20, exceeding the expected production of 21.6 million tpa.

It compared the trend in the decline of the volume of residual waste arisings against incinerators under construction and other factors (graph, above).

The review draws on data from councils’ annual WasteDataFlow returns, Defra’s latest commercial and industrial data and Eunomia’s in-house database of treatment facilities in the UK, both operating and under development.

The report maintains Eunomia’s previously stated stance on incineration that UK recycling rates would be hamstrung by overcapacity in the energy-from waste (EfW) sector.

The company says that the lengthy lifespan of incinerators, and the protracted period needed to repay capital costs, mean that councils may struggle with overcapacity and large liabilities in the future.

But other research in this area has reached different conclusions. In July 2014, the Green Investment Bank (GIB) argued that the UK had to continue investing to fill a gap between the residual waste treatment capacity and the tonnages produced.

Its report was backed by the Environmental Services Association, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, Sita UK, Veolia, Cory, the Renewable Energy Association, consultancy Ricardo-AEA and others. They wrote a joint letter to ministers at the time urging them to tackle the “infrastructure gap”.

Defra, however, has generally sided with Eunomia’s arguments when withdrawing PFI credits for large recovery schemes.

Adam Baddeley, report leader, recently posted on the Eunomia-affiliated Isonomia blog that Britain was in danger of facing a predicament similar to countries in northern Europe where excessive incinerator capacity had forced them to import large quantities of refuse-derived fuel from overseas to keep their EfW plants running.

Baddeley’s comments follow calls from Eunomia’s chairman, Dominic Hogg, in March, which criticised the GIB for investing too heavily in EfW and anaerobic digestion plants, rather than recycling plants or other projects higher up the waste hierarchy.

  • Final sentence updated to reflect call for schemes higher up the waste hierarchy

Readers' comments (3)

  • Not sure about the juxtaposition of "recent research" and "July 2014"...

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  • Dominic Hogg did indeed criticise the GIB for investing too heavily in EfW incineration, but he certainly did not criticise the GIB for investing too heavily in anaerobic digestion plants.

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  • Thanks Shomo. Dominic argued GIB was investing too much in EfW (both sorts) at the expense of recycling and other schemes higher up the hierarchy. I've mended the copy accrdingly to make it clearer.

  • The graph suggests a 'perfect storm' of rapidly reducing residual waste and high delivery of residual capacity - the reality will probably be far higher levels of residual waste and lower levels of delivery than the planning pipeline would suggest - but I'd certainly agree that there are parts of the UK that could be heavily over-supplied, especially the north east if all plants go ahead

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