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What infrastructure numbers can we count on?

The UK needs more investment in energy-from-waste (EfW) plants to process residual waste. By stating this in a recent report, the Green Investment Bank (GIB) plunged itself into a long-rumbling and heated debate that covers a number of contested topics in the waste and recycling industry: data availability, the legitimacy of incineration, the role of the Government.

For industry heavyweights who have often lamented a lack of infrastructure, the report was see as showing they were right and they had an influential backer on their side.

In a joint letter to several ministers, the Environmental Services Association, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, Sita UK, Veolia Environmental Services, Cory Environmental Services, Grundon Waste Management, the Renewable Energy Association and consultancy Ricardo-AEA, wrote: “The Green Investment Bank has just published its own analysis which has confirmed the industry’s fears of a significant capacity gap.”

They urged the Government to launch a “co-ordinated investigation” into the commercial and industrial (C&I) waste sector, pointing out that very little infrastructure had been built to serve it.

“The Government needs to recognise this and continue to work with industry to deliver the necessary data, policy environment and confidence to support this ongoing [infrastructure] need,” they added.

But the GIB’s report also attracted criticism around transparency and whether it followed the waste hierarchy. MRW put these concerns to the bank. In particular, the focus of criticism was on the data and assumptions that underpinned the report, since those were not fully disclosed.

Shlomo Dowen, national co-ordinator for the UK’s Without Incineration Network told MRW that his organisation has filed a Freedom of Information request to find this out.

“The GIB report seems to underestimate seriously the capacity that currently exists or is under construction, while significantly over estimating the quantities of residual waste that would require treatment,” he said.

However, a spokesman for the GIB said the bank does not own the dataset or the methodology behind the report. These belong to Tolvik, the consultancy that conducted the study, which is not planning to divulge them.

“This is information and methodology that Tolvik has developed over a number of years,” said director Adrian Judge. “It is Tolvik’s intellectual property.” He described it in summary to MRW (see box below).

Another contested point is where the GIB concluded that the UK was heading towards an infrastructure gap of up to 7.7 million tonnes by 2020, but did not take into account EfW plants that are already in the pipeline. The report itself acknowledged that an estimated 8.3 million tonnes of merchant incineration capacity has planning permission.

Judge said: “The facilities that are built are only those that can raise the necessary finance [to be built]. The question the GIB asked us to answer was: how much more investment [is needed], knowing what has already been invested or is lined up for investment?”

What the GIB wanted to measure was the financial gap that might prevent reaching an adequate level of EfW capacity in the UK to treat residual waste. As much as £5bn could be required to plug it, the bank concluded.

Methodology

Adrian Judge

Adrian Judge, director at Tolvik Consulting, explains the methodology used to produce the report:

Baseline: Residual C&I waste arisings in 2012

Our starting point was a number of surveys on commercial and industrial (C&I) waste arisings which were conducted on different UK geographies on the basis of different datasets in 2010.

We compared at least five reports and methodologies, and formed a view on the amount of residual C&I waste arisings in 2010. We then projected the figures on the basis of trends in the waste industry, and formed a view on the amount of residual C&I waste arisings in 2012.

To test the validity of our 2012 estimates, we compared them with figures on residual waste arisings that we extrapolated from Environment Agency (EA) data on tonnages going to landfill and energy from waste in 2012.

We found that the difference between our analysis and the EA figures was consistently less than 5% at the national level, so we concluded that our baseline estimate for 2012 was as robust as reasonably possible.

Forecast: Residual waste arisings in 2020

We assumed that C&I waste arisings will naturally increase in line with GDP. But as the UK has improved in waste prevention, we discounted that growth by one percentage point each year. This is the same approach used by Defra in its forecast on waste arisings for 2020.

Then we needed to form a view on how much more recycling will occur for C&I waste, and this was the most difficult part.

We assumed that one of the main elements of the C&I waste stream, mixed waste, is similar to household waste and will therefore be subject to similar recycling rate trends as household waste.

However, for other elements of the C&I waste stream, such as metals, which have already high recycling rates, only modest improvements in recycling rates were assumed.

We applied our estimated C&I recycling rate to arisings and concluded that, together with household waste, total residual waste will reduce from 27.7 million tonnes in 2012 to 22.4-26.5 million tonnes in 2020.

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