Claims that the growth in the RDF export market is driving up waste crime and leading to more abandoned sites in the UK are disputed by major players in the sector.
The RDF Export Industry Group, which represents a number of key UK exporters and importers on the continent, says the existing legal framework does not provide for any practicable restrictive standard for exported RDF and any standard that was applied would need to apply equally to residual waste treated domestically.
This follows a consultation process by Defra on its proposed standard definition for RDF: “A fuel produced from residual waste that meets an end user contractual specification for recovery at an energy-from-waste facility.”
The department has been circulating this definition to major players in the waste industry after announcing in December that it was to intervene in the market to clamp down on crime.
Those who have welcomed the wording see it is an attempt to ensure that RDF will be manufactured only when a buyer is in place, thereby reducing the stockpiling of material which has no market, adding to storage problems, fire risk and the potential for illegal exports.
The RDF Export Industry Group, in a new report, says: “Within existing legislation, there is only limited legal basis for any kind of treatment ‘standard’ to be introduced for exported RDF and this would be challenging and costly (both to Government and industry) to enforce. The basis for this standard would have to relate to the application of the waste hierarchy, which would need to apply equally to residual waste treated domestically.”
In its consultation on an RDF standard, Defra reported that “a significant number of respondents” had called for regulatory controls around the storage of waste to be improved with stricter measures to limit and investigate persistent stockpiling, the amounts of RDF stored and the duration of storage.
“Some respondents referred to RDF that had been stockpiled and abandoned by the operator under the guise of being produced for export; they felt that more should be done to address this problem, which is a criminal offence,” Defra said.
The RDF group welcomed the department’s desire to work with industry and said the the purpose of its report was to present the legal, environmental, and economic issues around RDF exports.
Its report, prepared by the Eunomia consultancy, argues that cases of abandoned waste are a matter of domestic non-compliance and enforcement and not associated with RDF exports.
Eunomia managing director, Mike Brown (left) said: “This report should help to progress the debate on RDF exports away from some of the misconceptions about it being key to waste being abandoned in the UK.
“There has been a modest but sizeable shift in the UK waste sector as a result of the landfill tax escalator making export affordable.”
It also found that if the 2.6m tonnes of RDF currently exported was processed domestically it would contribute just 0.8% to total UK renewable electricity generation. The study found that the exported material is currently unlikely to produce more CO2 emissions than residual waste treatment.
The report considered the economic costs and benefits of RDF exports, arguing that while there were losses from the UK economy in terms of gate fee revenue, exports provide a lower cost outlet for businesses and local authorities.
Although jobs may be lost due to RDF exports, alternative employment opportunities are created in waste collection, transfer and the handling of RDF, the report said.
The group’s members include Biffa, FCC Environment, Shank, Veolia, William Tracey and Andusia Recovered Fuels.