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Building more EfW facilities is critical, says ESA

EfW vs landfill

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has said the UK will not have sufficient energy-from-waste or recycling infrastructure to deal with an excess six million tonnes of waste by 2030, in a report that attempts to land a decisive blow in an ongoing capacity debate.

The ESA commissioned consultants Tolvik to examine six waste infrastructure reports in response to figures from Eunomia, which point to a future overcapacity of EfW facilities.

ESA warned that recycling rates were “unlikely to rise above current levels” and that without building more EfW facilities more waste will need to landfilled.

ESA executive director Jacob Hayler said the conclusions were “stark”.

“Without action, this means that five million UK homes will see their waste buried in landfill when it could be used to generate energy, helping to safeguard the UK’s energy supplies.

“We urgently need the Government to recognise the waste crisis the UK is facing and give the industry the long-term clarity it needs to invest in new EfW facilities.”

Tolvik director Adrian Judge said: “Current policy uncertainty, particularly in England, is discouraging investment into the sector, which desperately needs new infrastructure both for recycling and for EfW facilities.”

The ESA report analysed figures supplied by Eunomia, Biffa, Suez, FCC and Viridor.

But Eunomia criticised the findings for presenting scenarios “that bear no relation to the current, or likely future, reality”. 

Principal consultant Peter Jones said the report had not resolved the debate.

“Instead, it takes an unrealistically bullish approach to many of the key assumptions,” he added. “It therefore significantly overstates the UK’s need for residual waste treatment infrastructure, thereby risking the building of more costly infrastructure than we need.

“In planning for residual waste treatment, we should – if anything – err on the side of caution so as not to limit our recycling ambitions today and those that we might develop in the future.”

Some MPs have been persuaded by Eunomia’s figures. An early day motion (EDM) has been launched in Parliament calling for a moratorium on new energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities.

The EDM said the capacity of EfW facilities in existence or under construction outstrips the amount of “genuinely residual” waste forecasted.

Anti-incineration campaign group UKWIN backed the motion. The group also produced its own report, using Eunomia’s evidence of an overcapacity of EfW.

Eunomia’s report - one of a series that have predicted overcapacity - has faced a backlash from the industry since its publication.

Stuart Hayward-Higham, technical director at Suez and author of a report published in September that warned of regional shortfall of waste treatment facilities, said: ”The capacity gap will become a capacity crisis if we eschew EfW in favour of high-reaching recycling targets without robust policy action - and associated investment - to back it up.”

ESA report highlights

  • Recycling rates are unlikely to rise much above current levels, which would leave the UK six million tonnes short of treatment capacity by 2030, even after factoring in a continuation of waste exports to the EU and the development of some currently unplanned facilities.
  • Boosting recycling rates above the industry’s expected range of 50-55% is likely to cost at least £1.5bn and will require significant Government intervention to support markets for recycled materials.
  • Closing the forecast six million-tonne capacity gap would lead to £4.5bn capital investment, 1,500 permanent jobs in the waste sector and almost 7,500 jobs in the construction phase.
  • The additional energy from waste facilities would produce almost 0.5GW of electricity, capable of powering around 720,000 homes.

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