London and the south-east is in danger of running out of landfill space by 2025, meaning the region’s planned capacity for energy from waste (EfW) would need to be doubled in order to cope.
The findings come from research firm Tolvik in a report Residual Waste in London and the South East - Where is it Going to Go?
Its ‘central scenario’ – pitched between best and worst cases – assumes modest increases in household recycling rates; disruption caused by Brexit, leading to a 37.5% fall in refuse-derived fuel (RDF) export tonnages by 2021, equivalent to 0.7 million tonnes; and additional incinerator capacity of 1.4 million tonnes by 2025.
“In this scenario, it is projected that by 2025 there could be a cumulative shortfall of 4.66 million tonnes in non-hazardous landfill capacity across London and the south-east,” the report said.
Whatever assumptions were made, “there is little doubt that, for south London, Kent, East and West Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, the currently available non-hazardous landfill capacity will almost certainly be exhausted before 2025”, Tolvik found.
Dealing with this would require at least an additional 20,000 lorry journeys a year to take waste from the south-east to areas with available capacity, leading to both financial and environmental costs.
Additional landfill capacity would be hard to find if the region got near to the zero landfill situation envisaged by the Greater London Authority, in its policy of working towards not sending any biodegradable waste to landfill by 2026.
More than double the 2.06 million tonnes of extra incinerator capacity expected would be required, the report added.
“In practice, it is likely that there will be no single solution – rather the market will bring forward a range of responses to the potential shortfall in non-hazardous landfill capacity in London and the south-east,” Tolvik concluded.
It found that London and the south-east generated just under 10 million tonnes of residual waste, exporting 1.7 million tonnes as RDF to Europe.
The report said: “When combined with the potential impact of Brexit on RDF export, there is greater uncertainty in this residual waste market than any other in the UK.”
Tolvik director Chris Jonas said: “We first looked at the landfill market in 2011 – and with the forthcoming resources and waste and possible effects of Brexit, the time was right to analyse where the residual waste from London and the south-east will go in the near term.
”The report shows clearly that unless recycling rates rise quickly, existing RDF exports to Europe are maintained and landfill capacity is carefully planned while further EfW capacity is developed, there is likely to be a landfill capacity gap in London and the south-east.”