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When the numbers just don’t add up

These are confusing times. In the past two weeks, we have seen Defra withdraw PFI tax credits worth £115m from Veolia’s energy-from-waste (EfW) scheme with Hertfordshire County Council on the grounds that the UK does not need the capacity. Then, on Monday, the Green Investment Bank and others pledged more than £180m towards the AmeyCespa’s Allerton project in North Yorkshire which lost it own credits, of £65m, last year on the same ground of “too much existing capacity”.

In a nutshell, that sums up Defra’s view of UK waste infrastructure as opposed to most of the companies delivering it. At least four of the biggest have conducted their own research and take a different view from those in Whitehall. Prominent consultancies also take up different positions in this ‘heated’ debate.

One man who has seen first hand the shift from landfill to recovery and recycling is FCC Environment’s chief executive Paul Taylor, who is our ‘Big Interview’ subject.

FCC is a leading exporter of refuse-derived fuel to the continent and Taylor is convinced that, with appropriate infrastructure in the UK, those exports which have risen remarkably in the past four years would find a market at home.

It was interesting to see a brief report in one of our global news emails that German EfW plants have upped gate fees as the supply of imported feedstock - including that from the UK - comes closer to matching demand. If the continental pull declines, then we will have to process more at home or get even more recyclate from consumers and waste producers. No bad thing.

The reverse in the six-year decline of fly-tipping in England raises awkward questions about possible causes. The change is worrying, particularly as households are considered by the Keep Britain Tidy group to be the biggest offenders.

Is it because council spending cuts have reduced the number of recycling centres and some people are not prepared to travel further to dispose of their unwanted material? Is the growth in charging for bulky waste driving us to dump rather than arrange disposal? Prosecutions for fly-tipping, by contrast, are down.

We cannot afford to give a message to society that dumping waste illegally within our own communities is OK. The cost is too great.

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