A letter from environment secretary Michael Gove to Lord Teverson, chair of a House of Lords committee dealing with European environmental matters, stated that everything is (almost) in hand regarding the export of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) after Brexit.
If we take the explanation at face value, a problem could arise from the lack of vehicles entering the UK that would normally expect to pick up a return load of RDF and deliver it to northern Europe. In our case, we used to export to the Netherlands and Germany. But Bywaters has not exported RDF since December 2017.
If lorries are not entering the UK, there is likely to be a large shortage of return load vehicles to take our RDF across the English Channel. Even if these vehicles arrive, the drivers may perceive that carrying RDF will lead to extra delays, so they may decide to return empty.
Most waste locations I know of are routinely short of space, and, in Bywaters’, case all is now a ‘just in time’ operation. For a host of reasons, processed waste needs to be removed from the site immediately to allow more material in and to minimise other risks, such as fire and vermin.
If additional storage space is necessary in the short term, perhaps the baled RDF could be stored on concrete surfaces at airfields or within hangars. The biggest risk would then be security and fire, with at least one fire-fighting vehicle with adequate access to water needed continuously on-site.
Any storage will lead to unsightly conditions, and material handlers would be needed to load and unload bales of RDF. It would be an inland dock.
If the Government was desperate and required it, temporary storage could be found close to licensed sites – at a cost. There would be no room for extra material within our licensed site areas at either of our two locations.
Storage should be short term because bales can deteriorate quite quickly and the mess arising could be quite horrific. Most bales are formed to be loaded and unloaded once – any more than that and significant loss of ‘enclosure’ takes place.
Sites would need to be enclosed externally, but nothing will stop the wind helping waste to escape. Material stored in the open air will get wet and the weight can rise by 15% to 30% – and payment is calculated by weight delivered.
If our waste has to be stored, who will pick up the bill? With hindsight, the UK’s aversion to first-class energy-from-waste facilities for more than a decade has been a big mistake.
John Glover is managing director at Bywaters