Suez has warned that the UK could face a ‘disaster scenario’ in regards to a shortage of waste treatment infrastructure over the next decade, contradicting the recent findings of consultancy firm Eunomia.
Yesterday (16 August) Suez claimed that its new research indicates a current national shortfall of nearly 14 million tonnes of domestic treatment capacity, dropping to just under eight million tonnes by 2022 and approximately three million in 2027.
According to Suez, the shortage relates primarily to a ‘lack’ of energy-from-waste (EfW) power plants, which are replacing landfill sites as the preferred, more sustainable, waste disposal solution for non-recyclable “residual” waste.
The announcement contradicts the findings of a recent report by Eunomia in which the consultancy claimed to show that the UK is heading “inexorably” towards the point where there will be more energy from waste and other residual waste treatment plants than needed. (see letsrecycle.com story)
However, in explanation of its own findings, Suez predicts that a hard Brexit could contribute to a capacity gap.
Suez said: “The UK currently throws away around 60-70 million tonnes of household and non-hazardous commercial and industrial waste each year, much of which still ends up in landfill.
“But, due to the closure of many landfill sites and insufficient EfW capacity, the UK now exports over three million tonnes a year of waste to Europe for EfW treatment.
“SUEZ’s research has identified a serious capacity deficit, or “gap”, between waste volumes needing non landfill treatment and the available capacity to treat this waste in domestic and overseas EfW plants.”
However, Suez’s figures assume a ‘modest’ combined national recycling rate increase to 55% over the next decade.
The company explained that the gap diminishes over time as facilities in the planning pipeline are built and recycling increases.
However, Suez notes: “Even though the gap diminishes, the three million tonne capacity shortfall in 2027 represents the equivalent capacity of 10 typically-sized EfW plants, which would together cost more than £2 billion to build and have the combined electricity output to power half a million British homes.”
The company predicts a hard Brexit is also likely to contribute to the capacity gap as the three million tonnes of waste-derived fuel, currently exported to Northern Europe and Scandinavia, could be re-shored to the UK, if export tariffs, poor foreign exchange rates, European waste policy or border restrictions render exports financially or politically unviable.
Suez warned that the planning and construction of EfW facilities takes a minimum of five years.
Suez also claims the high rate of landfill tax and the likelihood that waste will have to be moved much further distances for disposal in the UK’s remaining landfill, will result in businesses and taxpayers being hit with higher waste disposal costs over the next decade.
According to Suez, treatment of residual commercial waste accounts for the majority of the capacity gap, requiring £5 billion of private sector investment to close it, in addition to £3 billion for supporting infrastructure.
Suez said this is a ‘difficult prospect’ without coordination and ‘positive policy signals’ from Government. And, it claimed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ‘historically downplayed’ the issue.
Chief executive of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, David Palmer-Jones said: “Our projections show that there is a serious long-term shortfall in the UK’s vital waste management infrastructure and a potential disaster scenario now looming in the event of a hard Brexit.
“Our projections show that there is a serious long-term shortfall in the UK’s vital waste management infrastructure and a potential disaster scenario now looming in the event of a hard Brexit.David Palmer-Jones
“There is unanimous agreement among the recycling and waste industry that a domestic capacity gap exists. This is a chance for the new Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to listen to the warnings of those at the coal-face and encourage his officials to take heed. The private sector cannot continue to take sole responsibility for an issue that should be one of Defra’s top priorities.
“Recycled raw materials and energy generated from waste could play an important role within the UK’s emerging industrial strategy, but this requires a joined-up, long-term, stable, approach to infrastructure planning not the piecemeal system we have now which has failed to deliver sufficient, balanced, capacity across the UK.
“Mr Gove and his colleagues at Defra have a real opportunity to work hand-in-hand with colleagues at BEIS and help us deliver the necessary infrastructure to produce sufficient energy to power 1.2 million households – the equivalent of three Birminghams – or risk of doing nothing and allow the UK to take a giant step backwards by having to revert to landfill as a primary treatment for residual waste.
“We have released these projections prior to the formal launch of the study because there is no time to waste. We urge Government to take note of our recommendations.”
Suez has conducted the research for a new report entitled Mind the Gap 2017- 2030, which is due to be formally published in September and launched at the RWM exhibition at the Birmingham NEC on 12 September 2017.
For an in-depth discussion on RDF and EfW, book your place at the RDF Conference, taking place on 23rd November at the Congress Centre, London. Visit www.rdfconference.com for more information.