The consultation into waste generation by the London Assembly is a timely and welcome development providing a tremendous opportunity to affect real change in the capital.
While the majority of rules governing waste management are derived from Brussels (for now at least), the London Mayor and Greater London Authority (GLA) still wield huge influence in determining London’s waste generation, handling and disposal methods.
Since joining Cory Riverside Energy in 2015 it has become increasingly clear to me that London (and, for that matter, the UK) would benefit from a more coherent approach to waste.
With the appropriate approach, I believe that by 2030 we could waste none of London’s waste. It could all be recycled or converted into electricity, heat and building materials, rather than being shipped abroad or buried in landfill. No wasted waste by 2030.
And closer coordination between the waste management sector and the regulation of electricity generation would enable the UK to capitalise on the wider benefits of waste treatment that many countries on the continent enjoy.
This consultation by the assembly’s environment committee gives us a real chance to kick-start this change and we were delighted to submit written evidence setting out our thinking on what should to be done.
Firstly, the industry’s priority must be to help policy-makers recognise there is a treatment capacity gap and action is required to fill it.
Each year, millions of tonnes of London’s waste is being buried in landfill or exported as refuse derived fuel (RDF). The focus for the authorities and regulators must be on creating a strategy for waste treatment that maximises the value and use of the waste resource created within London’s boundaries.
Hand-in-hand with this, we must work to ensure that there is recognition of the secondary benefits of EfW.
While perceptions are changing there remains a view amongst some that waste is a “cost”. This does not recognise the massive potential it possesses to provide fuel to power our homes and materials for construction and infrastructure projects.
At Cory Energy, we manage over 750,000 tonnes of London’s waste, generating 528 GW hours of baseload energy each year – enough to power every home in Croydon. The 200,000 tonnes of ash produced in the process is recycled and used as aggregate in London’s infrastructure. Under the right policy framework, there is enormous potential for all of London’s residual waste to be treated in this way.
Industry has a role to play in shifting misconceptions. Waste recovery, via EfW, is not at odds with recycling and even the most optimistic must realise that there will always be residual waste left over after recycling.
However, what will change with improved recycling practices is the “calorific quality” of our residual waste will decrease. This will place greater emphasis on the effectiveness of the technology used at EfW facilities and regulators should consider policies that support proven systems with proven environmental credentials.
Planners and planning regulation that favour new, unproven technology help nobody in the long run.
It is important to state that the private sector is willing to do more. We have a vision for making more of our plant in Bexley, and using our excess heat to power local homes and businesses is just one hugely exciting opportunity under consideration.
As I have often said, our industry does not need public sector handouts. We just need the reassurance from policy makers – at both a local and national level – that they recognise EfW for what it is: a low-carbon, low cost waste solution that can deliver against the ambition of a truly circular economy.
The committee’s consultation is a wonderful opportunity to make this happen.
Nick Pollard, chief executive, Cory Riverside Energy