Recent announcements by our local MP Hilary Benn have thrown a spot light on to commercial and industrial (C&I) waste, raising a raft of challenges for the industry. But close behind every challenge are business and carbon saving opportunities.
C&I waste currently has nothing like the level of regulation or visibility as the municipal waste sector: there are no universal mandatory requirements for businesses to reduce, recycle or recover their waste. Producer responsibility for waste electronics, packaging, batteries, end-of-life vehicles and even the grinding pressure of the landfill tax escalator still seems to leave most businesses unaware of the waste hierarchy.
The Landfill Regulations stipulate that businesses must prove that they have ‘pre-treated’ their waste. The simple reality is that most businesses have been unaffected and the waste industry has recycled a little more. The success or otherwise of these requirements to date is overshadowed by the potential of the landfill tax escalator.
Are the economics now starting to have a real effect on business behaviour? I have been asking myself this question and giving optimistic answers for at least the past five years.
Surely the escalator is slowly making the landfilling of waste an unattractive option?
But surely the escalator is slowly making the landfilling of waste an unattractive option? In Yorkshire, gate fees are relatively cheap at around £20 per tonne. But add in landfill tax at its current £40 per tonne, and it is starting to look expensive when compared with anaerobic digestion (AD) and in-vessel composting.
Research by the former department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform research shows that more than 99% of businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), all of which have their own varied business and waste collection needs and quality issues. It can seem that the C&I waste challenge will always outweigh any opportunities. Not so. Businesses in the resource efficiency sector are beginning to emerge, and thrive, in servicing these small customers. It’s not an explosion of activity, but the trend is there and it is becoming more obvious every day.
CO2Sense, and other support organisations, are helping to accelerate these developments, providing advice and funding. When we closed a recent round of applications for assistance, we were thrilled to see that we had a record level of interest. It is becoming increasingly apparent that where some see intractable problems, others recognise business opportunities along and across the supply chain. It is generally SME or start-up companies providing this innovation.
Food waste is a great example, although by no means unique. Food waste from retail and hospitality businesses, a large and growing sector of the economy dominated by micro-businesses, continues to make up a massive proportion of waste going to landfill. It is part of the reason we have increased our focus on assisting projects which collect and process this waste.
In just three projects under construction, Yorkshire will have in place the infrastructure to divert 90,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfill into AD, processing unpackaged food waste, with depackaging also being planned. We’re sure there’s more to come.
But building this capacity is only half the story: helping companies to set up commercial food waste collections to feed this new capacity is essential. And the M62 and A1 corridors are emerging as the places to establish businesses to source feedstock for these plants.
There is no doubt that waste is being prevented, carbon emissions are being reduced and there is a renewable source of energy – all costing less than landfill. It’s proof that C&I waste presents far more by the way of opportunities than problems.