The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is designed to accelerate the take-up of renewable heat technologies, much needed if the UK is going to hit carbon reduction targets.
The Government believes the RHI, which will be introduced in two phases, will drive a seven-fold increase in renewable heat during the next 10 years. It will encourage industrial and commercial businesses as well as community organisations and householders to switch from using fossil fuel to alternative, greener supplies.
The RHI will help to reduce the impact that heat requirements have on the environment and ensure the UK has a safe, secure and reliable energy supply. But at what cost will this be to other sectors in the environmental industry, notably the recycling and recovery of materials?
“A growth in EfW could pose a threat to closed loop recycling of paper and board”
There is a wide range of technologies and fuel uses included in the incentive, which may increase in future years. These include solid and gaseous biomass, solar thermal, ground and water source heat pumps, on-site biogas, deep geothermal, energy from waste (EfW) and biomethane injection into the grid.
It is in everyone’s interest to reduce the amount of potentially recyclable material going to landfill. The legal compliance requirements to be introduced on the waste hierarchy under the revised Waste Framework Directive will help drive this forward. The objective for materials such as paper and cardboard should be zero waste to landfill, except a small percentage that cannot be recovered due to their primary use.
Paper and cardboard are great recycling success stories, with 80% of corrugated packaging being recovered in the UK and 76% of the average corrugate box consisting of recycled fibres. The same applies for newsprint, currently achieving a 76% recycled content, and the tissue sector, which uses 70% of recovered materials in the production process.
But will such a sustainable practice continue when faced with what could be seen as unfair competition from other processes?
The Confederation of Paper Industries opposes the use of subsidies to promote EfW because it is likely to result in creating competitive imbalances within the supply chain. Why should one technology much further down the waste hierarchy be given more favourable trading conditions over others which are higher up the hierarchy and have a proven success rate?
A growth in EfW could pose a threat to closed loop recycling of paper and board, which could result in increasing energy use and carbon emissions from paper mills.
Only non-recyclable paper or contaminated paper and board should be used in EfW plants. But while the recycling and recovery rates are proven in the industry, could a growth in EfW mean that good-quality recyclate ends up being sent to such plants to keep them fed?
Commingled collections, which have helped to drive higher recovery rates, should not be used to circumvent the waste hierarchy by allowing councils to send material direct to EfW plants.
Such an unfair subsidy could seriously threaten the competitiveness of the paper industry as it loses access to its key raw materials.