Here at Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), myself and my policy team colleagues frequently receive queries from our members looking for advice on how their feedstock will be classified – i.e. whether it is a waste, residue, by-product or product.
These queries usually relate to potential feedstocks that do not fit neatly or obviously into a particular classification. In some ways this uncertainty is to be expected, as the status of a feedstock can depend on the specific circumstances of its production and use.
Any feedstock which is regarded as a ‘waste’ by the environmental regulator can only be accepted by operators who have the appropriate regulatory arrangements in place to do so (i.e. an environmental permit or an exemption). Any operator accepting wastes that they are not permitted to accept risks facing legal action; it is therefore important to be confident in a feedstock’s regulatory status before accepting and using it.
Uncertainty (or delays in obtaining confirmation from the regulator) could result in an operator missing the opportunity to use feedstocks available to them. So how can feedstock suppliers and operators get a better understanding of a material’s classification?
As was widely reported at the time, the Environment Agency’s (EA) ‘Definition of Waste’ panel was temporarily suspended in September 2016. Up to that point operators and feedstock suppliers had been able to submit information to the panel and receive an official view on the status of a material. This was a free service and provided some clarity to those who went through the process.
Unfortunately, the EA could not continue to resource the panel and it appears unlikely to be reopened in the near future. There have been suggestions that the panel could reopen as a chargeable service and ADBA will continue to provide the views of the anaerobic digestion (AD) industry to the EA on this matter (at the time of writing it is understood that the panel’s future may be considered within the EA’s upcoming consultation on their strategic review of charges).
In the meantime, operators can still use the EA’s ‘Definition of Waste’ guidance and their ‘IsItWaste’ tool, both of which can be found on the EA website. The IsItWaste tool takes the user through a useful self-assessment process but the tool itself only gives an indication as to a feedstock’s classification. In the absence of the Definition of Waste panel, operators are encouraged to use the tool but also discuss any feedstocks they are unsure of with their local EA officer.
To conclude, while the majority of feedstocks currently used in AD are easy to define as a waste (e.g. household food waste) or a non-waste (e.g. purpose-grown energy crops), there are some which are less straightforward to classify but which may be excellent feedstocks for which AD is the best treatment option. The ability to obtain clarity from the regulator quickly and easily could help avoid wasted opportunities.
Jess Allan is environment and regulation manager for the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association