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UK's 2020 landfill diversion targets will be met, says industry boss

The UK will hit the 2020 landfill diversion target, industry non-executive director Paul Levett has said, in contrast to warnings from a coalition of industry groups.

Exclusive MRW strap

Levett told MRW in an exclusive interview: “There is no real option to continue with landfill at scale. The number of sites that are operational are reducing all the time, sites are closing every week and nobody is opening new sites. Nobody in their right mind would invest in new landfills.

“There are already parts of the UK where there is very limited landfill and that will increase.”

He added that because it would be “ludicrous to truck waste for long distances”, landfill would not be an option for many parts of the UK in the near future.  

“De facto, we will hit the landfill diversion targets,” he said, “because there won’t be landfill to send it to.”

Paul Levett

Levett’s (left) opinions diverge from those of a group of industry trade bodies and council waste bosses, who warned this summer that the UK would be unable to meet landfill diversion targets of landfilling only 35% of waste on 1995 levels by 2020.

The group urged the Government “not to sleepwalk into waste infrastructure shortfall” in a joint statement. It was signed by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), Institution of Civil Engineers, Local Government Technical Advisers Group and Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT).

The call to action reiterated ADEPT’s warning to environment secretary Owen Paterson in July that the UK would not be able to meet its 2020 landfill targets.

However, Levett told MRW he thinks that instead of landfilling, there will be an increasing production of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) from commercial and industrial waste. This would continue to be exported to continental Europe until merchant gasification plants open in the UK to absorb at least half of the RDF flow. He said he expects the timescale for the plants’ opening to be within three to five years.

“I think plants that will be built will be gasification plants which will qualify for ROCs [Renewables Obligation Certificates]. This will generate additional electricity income, and that will allow them to offer very competitive gate fees,” he said.

He added that he does not think the withdrawal of PFI credits from waste projects would have a significant impact on landfill diversion rates – again differing from the group of trade bodies and council bosses, who said: “The latest statistics, combined with a potential shortfall in the amount of waste treatment capacity coming on stream in the next few years, indicate that the Government’s decision to withdraw funding is short-sighted in relation to the UK’s waste policy objectives.”

Levett said: “I don’t think that the withdrawal of PFI credits will have a significant impact because councils have the option to contract with any of the proposed merchant plants, and the overall costs to Government should be lower than PFI schemes because the contracts can be less complex.”

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