Suez chief executive David Palmer-Jones has said a lack of residual waste treatment infrastructure in the UK during the next 13 years could end up as a “potential disaster”.
Suez has released details of a waste treatment infrastructure capacity report ahead of schedule in order to rebuff claims by Eunomia that the UK will reach overcapacity by 2020-21.
The company called on environment secretary Michael Gove to back the industry in developing billions of pounds-worth of treatment infrastructure.
The Suez report, which backs up criticisms levelled against Eunomia by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), predicts a shortfall of capacity of around 7.6 million tonnes by 2022 and 2.4 million tonnes by 2030. This relates mainly to energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities.
It warned that landfills were closing at “a faster rate than anticipated” which is putting pressure on “scarce” EfW plants, particularly in the south-east and London.
It said: “While there remains insufficient EfW plant capacity to pick up the slack, the high rate of landfill tax and the likelihood that waste will have to be moved much further distances for disposal in the UK’s remaining landfill means that Britain’s businesses and taxpayers will be hit with higher waste disposal costs during the next decade.”
The treatment of residual commercial waste was blamed for most of the capacity gap. Suez estimates that around £5bn of private sector investment was needed to build new EfW facilities, along with £3bn of supporting infrastructure – including recycling.
Palmer-Jones said Defra was mistaken in its analysis that there was sufficient EfW capacity in the pipeline to deal with future residual waste arisings.
He said: “Our projections show that there is a serious long-term shortfall in the UK’s vital waste management infrastructure and a potential disaster scenario now looming in the event of a hard Brexit.
“In 2014 Suez warned the Government that the UK has, and will continue to have, a structural waste treatment capacity gap. Brexit will now exacerbate the problem.
“Hard borders, import tariffs and a weakening of sterling will make waste exports to Europe, which the UK continues to rely upon, financially unviable. Instead, the waste we currently export in the absence of sufficient domestic EfW capacity will be re-shored into remaining, expensive, UK landfill – at a high cost to British businesses, taxpayers and the environment.
“As a result of non-existent regional planning and the lack of a forward-looking national waste strategy, there are big regional gaps emerging in waste treatment infrastructure. So we will see waste being hauled around the country at an increased cost to those living and working in regions without landfill or spare EfW capacity.
“Suez is not alone in making these projections. There is unanimous agreement among the recycling and waste industry that a domestic capacity gap exists.”
Suez is to release its full report, Mind the Capacity Gap, at the RWM exhibition in September.
Eunomia defended its latest Residual Waste Infrastructure Review after ESA chief executive Jacob Hayler said the consultancy’s ”abilities to overstate available capacity and under-predict residual waste arisings are astounding”.
Under one scenario outlined by Eunomia, the UK would have sufficient residual waste treatment capacity by 2030.
But depending on the waste arisings estimate for 2030, Eunomia suggests there could be 9.5 million tonnes of excess treatment capacity, or 5.9 million tonnes if the UK stops exporting refuse-derived fuel.