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Defra plans RDF standards after accepting market failure

Defra has said it will consider producing standards for refuse derived fuel (RDF) and introducing measures to clamp down on crime.

In response to a call for evidence into RDF, the department acknowledged there was “an environmental rationale” for intervention in the RDF market in England.

Its document said: “There is a market failure that the environmental cost of RDF compared to recycling is not fully taken into account by those generating RDF.”

This is a rare intervention by Defra on the grounds of market failure since resource minister Dan Rogerson’s widely-quoted letter in October 2013 saying the department would not take an active role in policy unless there was such a failure.

Defra said the new RDF measures would include a standard definition and treatment guidelines. However, they will not include a prescription for the composition of the material.

Defra would work with industry, the Environment Agency and the devolved administrations on the guidelines and consider whether or not they should be in the form of legislation.

The department will also introduce address enforcement issues relating to RDF production, storage and use. Storage would be subject to an environmental permit and the competence of operators would be assessed before a licence is granted.

Defra will also consider the case for financial guarantees or bonds for permitted sites and to request operators to have end-user contracts in place for their output when they apply for permits.

The department said the EA would increase interventions at sites deemed at high risk and take actions on “serial poor performance and deliberate non-compliance”.

It will also check that storage limit are not exceeded and there is stock rotation in RDF sites.

The measures were announced in response to a call for evidence on the RDF market launched in March, which attracted 47 contributions from the waste and recycling industry.

Respondents indicated they were concerned about two trends. They noted some operators were producing poor quality RDF that contained significant quantities of recyclates that should have instead been reprocessed, as mandated by the waste hierarchy.

Some operators were also producing RDF on a speculative basis and waiting for the most favourable market condition to sell it, which resulted in stockpiling.

As a result, most respondents said they supported some form of Government intervention into the RDF market - a position shared by Defra.

However, the department said it will not consider some actions suggested by respondents as they would contradict the Government’s position on free market.

These include banning or taxing the export of RDF and subsidising the gate fees of energy-from-waste plants.

Defra will also not increase landfill tax more than inflation or consider speeding up the planning process.

  • According to the latest data from the EA, some 1.77 million tonnes of RDF were exported from England and Wales in the nine months to September, 42% more than the same period last year.

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