11 September 2017 by Hera Lorandos

Government commissions national waste capacity study

EXCLUSIVE: The government’s National Infrastructure Commission has commissioned a waste infrastructure study amid a growing debate about waste capacity in the UK.


The study is part of the government’s National Infrastructure Assessment which is assessing the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), has explained that the purpose of the study will be to “identify the best value infrastructure investment strategy, weighing the costs of separation and different treatment/disposal pathways against the economic, environmental and social benefits”.

NIC is an independent body providing the government with advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges. The study is part of the NIC’s National Infrastructure Assessment which is assessing the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs across a 10 to 30 year horizon.


It has been confirmed that sustainability consultancy Anthesis has won the tender to conduct the study entitled ‘National Infrastructure Assessment: Waste Infrastructure Analysis’.

The waste infrastructure assessment, termed ‘solid waste’, is one of six sectors to be scrutinised by the NIC. The others are: transport, energy, water and wastewater, digital communication, and flood risk management. The final assessment will be published in 2018.

Comprising of two stages, the analysis will first assess the costs and benefits of increasing separation within the waste infrastructure system, covering a number of options including the separation of food waste, biodegradable waste and plastics from the residual waste stream.

The second stage of the analysis will assess the costs and benefits of directing the separated waste streams down different treatment/disposal pathways.

Costs to be assessed will include the full economic, environmental and social costs of the different pathways.

Household to Industrial

The final report will include a map of the UK waste system for the household, commercial and industrial sectors, as well as case studies of national (UK) and international best practice (including an analysis of the Welsh and Scottish systems).

A horizon scanning exercise on future technologies will also be included in the study, which will estimate the impact these technologies may have on waste arisings and waste infrastructure capacity.

First stage analysis will include an assessment of the costs of separating out plastic waste

Tender document
National Infrastructure Commission

As a baseline, current policies, including producer responsibility, will be assumed and the report will not include upper circular economy.


There has been a growing debate around the UK’s waste infrastructure capacity following a report by consultancy, Eunomia, which claimed 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).

But Suez and Biffa have disagreed with the Eunomia report. In Suez’s own report, it has predicted that a hard Brexit could contribute to a capacity gap. And Biffa has also issued its own report stating that the UK will have a shortfall in energy from waste (EfW) capacity up until 2030 (see letsrecycle.com story).

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