Biffa calls for government to ‘consider EfW moratorium’

Biffa has published a blueprint for how the waste sector can achieve net zero, with calls for the waste hierarchy to be replaced and the government to consider a moratorium on approving more energy from waste plants (EfW) plants.

Biffa's Newhurst facility, pictured earlier in 2022, is one of two the company is involved with

The company makes the suggestions today (5 December) in a report titled ‘From waste hierarchy to carbon hierarchy: Biffa’s blueprint for waste net zero’.

The report claims that the UK can unlock approximately £18 billion in investment in the circular economy, creating more than 16,000 jobs while reducing carbon emissions by up to 7.1 million tonnes a year.

Additionally, Biffa says that 43 million tonnes of circular raw materials could be created annually “to support sustainable manufacturing and consumption”. The report points out that this can be achieved using existing proven technologies and processes.

The document states that to act out this step, “sensible policies that provide long-term certainty need to be implemented without delay”.

Energy from waste

Biffa – which is involved in the development of two EfW plants – remarks that there are “more than enough consented facilities and it is likely many will never be built”. The report claims that the UK’s “network of energy recovery facilities is almost complete” and that policies need to be rolled-out before more are planned”.

Recommendations

The report suggested that waste policy moves on from the waste hierarchy to a carbon-based hierarchy, which would recognise the carbon cost of all activities.

It also calls for an accelerated rollout of extended producer responsibility (EPR) “to incentivise reductions in packaging and increase use of recyclable material”. The document also recommends that a moratorium on more energy from waste (EfW) facilities is considered.

The report listed a number of policy requests aimed at helping the sector transition to net zero

Plastic exports

Additionally, the company said that “an outright ban – including to OECD countries – on the export of plastic waste is the first step” and restrictions for other materials should be considered “based on environmental risk if not recycled properly”. Biffa reasoned that this “will stimulate investment and ensure vital recovered raw materials are available in the UK”.

The report then highlighted the “essential” role of landfill as “a disposal point of last resort” for certain types of waste which cannot be reused, recycled or recovered. It added that landfill needs to be addressed in national and local infrastructure plans to avoid a landfill capacity crisis.

The document also noted that zero emission zones would help accelerate transition to low carbon fuel, transforming the collections market. It stated that to achieve this, legislation as well as local government funding will be needed.

Challenge

While the report recognised the progress made, with UK household waste to landfill falling by 50% from 2010 to 2020 and carbon emissions reducing by 69% since 1990, Biffa’s CEO Michael Topham acknowledged the challenge ahead.

Michael Topham, chief executive of Biffa

He said that “the UK still produces too much waste and doesn’t recycle enough of it”. “Recycling levels in the UK have plateaued at around 44%. Too many materials are not designed for recyclability, and collections systems are often inconsistent and unclear. And where we do recycle, we remain too dependent on export markets as an end destination for materials,” he added.

The UK government’s recycling target of 65% by 2035 equates to around 10 million additional tonnes per annum of recyclable material, the report continued. To fully handle this material in the UK represents around £1.2 billion of investment in approximately 30 materials recycling facilities (MRFs).

Useful links

Biffa Waste Net Zero Report

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