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Organics - 6 July 2012

Treatment capacity in the UK’s anaerobic digestion (AD) sector has continued to grow during the past year. There are now 78 operational plants, most of which use some form of organic waste as a feedstock. 

Since the start of 2011, the number of plants in the UK has grown by almost 50%, and another 200 projects have either received planning permission or are in the process of doing so.

This growth has followed increased interest and recognition of the potential of the sector from the Government and businesses.

Defra’s waste review of 2011 identified AD as realising the “greatest environmental benefit” of any treatment for food waste. Government incentives for electricity, biomethane and heat production have also made investment in the market an attractive option.

The announcement by Tamar Energy in February 2012 that it had secured funding to invest £65m into the market and develop 40 AD plants is indicative of this growing confidence.

As for many recycling sectors, Government policy on escalating landfill tax has been a key driver for businesses and local authorities. The plan to raise the tax to £80/tonne by 2014 is continuing to incentivise new developments in waste treatment and resource management.

In the case of organic waste, organisations of all types and scales are consider-ing AD as a viable option.

In the AD sector, as in other organics recycling industries, plant operators have also seen movement in the gate fees market.

Although figures such as those collated in WRAP’s annual survey of gate fees suggest that average gate fees are falling, the picture around the country is far from uniform. Members of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) report huge variation depending on factors such as waste availability, competition for treatment and organic waste quality.

Expectations that gate fees are falling fast and will continue to do so may therefore be misplaced, at least in the short term. That is particularly the case where a greater proportion of organic waste arisings are expected to become available for treatment through AD.

Late 2011 saw the launch of the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Regulations, committing Scotland to rolling out comprehensive separate food waste collections in councils by 2015 and a complete ban on all biodegradable material to landfill by 2020.

In response to this, there have already been signs of expansion in both collection and treatment services for organic waste.

Although Westminster is behind Holyrood on this issue, a similar move could follow. The waste review suggested that consulting on a ban on biodegradable waste to landfill will be considered in the future.

The Weekly Collection Support Scheme, launched in February 2012, allows local authorities to bid for funding to add “a weekly food waste (or organic waste) service to an existing fortnightly collection of residual household waste”.

Although the bidding process is ongoing, as MRW reports on page 5, councils have expressed a high level of support for separate food waste collections. This could result in more availability of organic waste from households in parts of England.

Government decisions control a large portion of the organic waste market, either directly through council waste collection or indirectly in the drivers they set for UK businesses.

Although some policy remains unclear, the direction of travel towards better valuing resources and carbon is likely to continue the expansion in AD capacity as the treatment option which realises the greatest environmental benefit from organic waste.

Charlotte Morton, ADBA chief executive

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