A large fire which broke out at a site operated by Twence in the Netherlands has been extinguished but has brought to light concerns about exports of waste from the UK.
The fire broke out in Hengelo on Saturday morning (30 June), at a site used to store waste to be processed in the company’s energy from waste plant (EfW) on site.
According to the local fire service, the fire originated from a “large mound of waste” located outside onsite.
The “mountain” of waste around 200 x 100 metres and 20 metres high was “completely on fire”, the fire service said. Two Chinook helicopters were able to extinguish a “large part of the fire” from above. The cause of the fire is unknown.
When contacted by letsrecycle.com, a spokesperson for Twence confirmed that the fire was extinguished on Monday afternoon.
The fire led to a reduction in deliveries of waste to the site on Monday as the company tried to divert or delay deliveries. By Tuesday, the site was back to normal operation, the spokesperson explained.
In a statement, Twence said it was likely the “extreme drought and strong wind” led to the fire. However, the company said investigations are being conducted into the cause of the fire.
“Large parts of the region have experienced nuisance from the smoke development on Sunday,” the company said. “We regret this situation and would like to express our apologies to everyone who has been inconvenienced.”
Twence operates an EfW plant at the site in Hengelo. A number of UK firms in refuse derived fuel (RDF) market hold contracts to send material to the facility.
A video uploaded to Youtube which shows a Chinook helicopter tackling the fire in Hengelo
Some in the industry have warned that this sort of event can put added pressure on the sector. This is particularly pertinent given a number of shutdowns which are taking place at EfW facilities in London and South East England for maintenance this summer.
When contacted by letsrecycle.com for a general sector view, one sector expert suggested that pressures on exports could see waste diverted to landfill in the UK in some instances.
“Should a facility be down for a long period what will happen with the RDF that was meant for export and those suppliers involved? They may be able to move to other facilities in the export market but this RDF could end up being landfilled.”
He continued: “Although I have seen more thermal treatment capacity coming online in the UK, we are still heavily reliant on the export of RDF. Incidents such as Twence just shows that if we cannot export, what solutions do suppliers in the UK have apart from sending to landfill.”
A similar view on pressures over RDF exports came from Oliver Caunce, senior account manager at Geminor. Mr Caunce confirmed earlier this week that the company supplies RDF to the Twence facility.
Mr Caunce explained that the Dutch waste market is “under pressure” and that “unplanned downtime won’t help”.
A UK perspective came from the Environmental Services Association which suggested that there would be little impact for the UK waste market from the Twence fire.
Libby Forest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at ESA said the incident was “unlikely to be too disruptive given that UK RDF will only be a relatively small portion of its feedstock”. Exporters will have “contingencies in place,” she added.
Meanwhile the Dutch Waste Management Association said Twence had been able to continue operating in full practice so it expects “no effect” on the market.
According to a compendium of data released by Defra, in 2017 the export of refuse derived fuel from England fell marginally by 12,000 tonnes, with the majority sent to The Netherlands (48%).
The overall levelling out of RDF exports to the continent is thought to be due to more opportunities arising on the domestic market and energy from waste facilities in European countries reaching their capacity.