Uncertainty about the future of trading refuse-derived fuel (RDF) has led the new president of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) to choose this topic for his inaugural report.
Speaking in Dublin, Enda Kiernan said: “Uncertainties exist around the future of the industry. Pressures include the possible impact of rising recycling rates coupled with growing domestic energy-from-waste (EfW) capacity, as well as the ramifications of Brexit on the economics of export from the UK.”
Kiernan is a CIWM fellow and trustee, and has worked in local authority services since 1997, specialising in waste management and waste operations.
His report subject RDF Trading in a Modern World was chosen in recognition of its significant role in residual waste management in the Republic of Ireland and UK.
Kiernan said headline findings from research by SLR Consulting across the British Isles showed the Irish Republic was likely to see a significant reduction in RDF export tonnages as new domestic EfW capacity is developed and recycling rates increase.
On a per capita basis, Northern Ireland has the greatest reliance on RDF exports, and this was likely to continue until domestic EfW projects are successfully developed.
For England, EfW capacity might erode RDF export tonnages, while future recycling levels would be pivotal to the long-term outlook for exports.
Achievement of circular economy recycling targets in England, should this happen, implied the end of large-scale RDF exports.
Scottish local authorities may look to expand RDF exports to meet the 2021 ban on landfill of biodegradable waste, the research found, although some might opt to send residual waste to EfW facilities or landfills in northern England.
Wales’ strong recycling performance meant it had limited reliance on RDF exports.
Explaining the findings, SLR director Alban Forster said: “In all countries, RDF exports continue to play a valuable interim role in diverting material from landfill.
“For the UK, however, the Brexit process raises the possibility that the practice of exporting RDF will become less economic. While it looks likely that tariffs will not apply to RDF, an onerous customs regime would add to transport times and administrative burdens.”