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Let’s work with new RDF definition

Waste and resources sector

December 2015 has been a busy time for the UK waste sector, with the EU’s circular economy package being released, the climate summit COP21 considering the state of energy-intensive industries and the autumn statement and spending review announced at the end of November.

There is so much to talk about.

Laura Owen 2000

Laura Owen 2000

But I want to focus on something that is a bit different and is perhaps being slightly forgotten: refuse-derived fuel (RDF).

In December 2013, the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG) published its report, Exported Opportunity? Putting UK Waste to Work at Home and Abroad. It made recommendations for policy change OPINION designed to ensure the UK maximises value from its waste, considering recyclate and waste-derived fuels (WDFs), both at home and via export (see box below).

Among the key recommendations concerning export of WDFs was a call for Defra, working with DECC, to “commission a systematic assessment of RDF and solid recovered fuel (SRF) production capacity, and potential markets and outlets (including location) in the UK, in order to provide greater confidence to waste management investors and businesses in the UK looking for alternative fuels”.

The Government published a call for evidence in early 2014 and, following responses, it was thought necessary to define RDF so, in August this year, it released a one-sentence definition. However, just last month that definition was updated to clarify “what is expected of waste described as RDF”.

The full definition now states that RDF “consists of residual waste that is subject to a contract with an end-user for use as a fuel in an energy-fromwaste facility. The contract must include the end-user’s technical specifications relating as a minimum to the calorific value, the moisture content, the form and quantity of the RDF”.

Although there has been mixed re- action to the definition, it will be an important tool in tackling abuse of waste regulations by some companies currently operating illegally in the waste sector. It is also scheduled to be in force for a trial period of six months, starting early next year. This will be a crucial time for the industry to feed back into the debate and update Defra on how the definition is working in practice.

I am excited to be working with the APSRG, the Sustainable Resource Forum and the sector to monitor the success of this trial and make any further recommendations as to the practicalities of this definition.

I am convinced that, even if it isn’t right now, the RDF definition can be made to work so that a level playing field is created in the sector.

Among APSRG’S recommendations

  • The waste and resources sector, with support from local government partners, should work to raise awareness of the inherent energy value of residual waste and its potential contribution to local, low-carbon electricity and heat generation.
  • Defra and DECC should build on the ‘guide to the debate’ project to develop a clear, long-term position on the development of EfW in the UK, to provide certainty to the domestic market.
  • The Government and industry should work together to ensure that commercial and industrial waste data is updated and made as accurate as possible in order to underpin strategies for future treatment of this waste stream.
  • Defra and DECC should commission a systematic assessment of RDF and SRF production capacity, potential markets and outlets to provide greater confidence to investors and those in the UK looking for alternative fuels.
  • The communities, business and transport departments should encourage the local enterprise partnerships to carry forward the work of the regional development agencies in relation to EfW development, and identify opportunities for co-location and heat use.
  • Defra should set a minimum processing level for the production of RDF, to make a clear distinction between WDF and untreated municipal solid waste.
  • The waste and sustainable resource management industry and the Environment Agency should work together to provide enhanced training and expertise to staff involved in the inspection of waste sites and shipments.

Laura Owen is head of sustainability at Policy Connect and APSRG Manager



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