Solid recovered fuel (SRF) has the potential to meet 4-5% of the UK’s national energy requirement - or enough to power around one million households. But despite the enormous potential, the Government is allowing a sustainable fuel to be wasted.
Energy is currently the second or third biggest cost to industry, depending on the sector. In SRF we have a lower cost, secure and sustainable source of energy that has a more stable cost of production than current fuels, including renewable options. And when used to offset traditional fuels, SRF is carbon-neutral.
Because of environmental restrictions and the landfill tax, the UK will increasingly be diverting more non-recyclable waste material away from landfill. This leaves two options: incineration and export.
With the expected increase in waste, we will not have enough capacity in our domestic mass-burn facilities to deal with it. In any case, incineration does not offer any recycling benefit and is not an environmentally sustainable option.
The other option is for more material to be shipped abroad. On the rare occasion that waste is collected for SRF, it is exported overseas.
But why are we selling sustainable fuel to other nations when we are concerned about our own energy infrastructure and security? Why isn’t SRF playing a greater part in the UK’s sustainable and secure energy future, despite the evidence clearly showing its benefits?
The biggest constraint stopping us from harnessing SRF is that this fuel is currently classified as waste, not as a product which, under current regulations, precludes its use in non-Waste Incineration Directive-compliant facilities.
This classification issue is a roadblock to developing the technology and is stopping the UK from benefiting from a fuel that Europe has utilised for the past 20 years.
The Government has set out a three-point test that must be met for SRF to reach end of waste status:
- Waste has been converted into a distinct and marketable product
- Waste-derived fuel can be used in exactly the same way as an ordinary fuel
- Waste-derived fuel can be stored and used with ‘no worse’ environmental effects when compared with the fuel it is intended to replace
SRF clearly meets all three tests, so the Government must make urgent moves to reclassify it to ensure the fuel can be included in the UK’s future energy plans.
To add to the industry’s frustration, there is precedent of such a classification change. Digestate from anaerobic digestion processes was reclassified by the Government as a product so that it could be used in agriculture.
The Government has been open to the arguments for a classification change, but to date there has been no movement. It should more forcefully demonstrate its support, and that means engaging directly with the Environment Agency (EA).
No doubt there will be opposition from some corners of the industry and from campaign groups who believe that all waste can be practically recycled. But the EA’s likely precautionary approach will only result in more delay and stagnation.
SRF’s environmental and economic benefits to the UK are too strong to ignore any longer. SRF provides a safe, carbon-neutral, secure and sustainable option and this regulatory roadblock needs to be cleared.
We urge the Government to work with Shanks and the rest of the waste industry to make sure we can make the most of this energy resource. If they do not, they are truly wasting an opportunity.
Ian Goodfellow, UK managing director, Shanks