The UK refuse derived fuel (RDF) market which sees thousands of tonnes of the material shipped abroad for energy recovery is a “good example of an industry that is working”, according to Hertfordshire-based Andusia Recovered Fuels Ltd.
Defending the production of RDF, the company described the practice as a “sustainable industry” which gets a “bad press” from a small number of high-profile examples of poor practice – echoing similar comments made by Biffa chief executive Ian Wakelin in (see letsrecycle.com story) in the wake of reports of problems with Somerset company Boomeco’s RDF operations in Avonmouth.
Speaking exclusively to letsrecycle.com, co-director of Andusia Steve Burton said: “There is nothing wrong politically and environmentally with what we do. We are burning it [RDF] and getting power from it. Unless you reduce the volume of residual waste what do you do? It has got to be a big advantage over landfill.
“I would say around a third to a half of what is in domestic waste bins still comes out before it goes to RDF. What we should be making sure is that what is exported is actually RDF – residual waste should not be exported.”
He explained that the majority of UK waste set for RDF production goes through a sorting process to remove recyclable materials before it is exported as a fuel material, while Andusia had also paid around £250,000 in Transfrontier of Shipment (TFS) fees to the Environment Agency, which is therefore benefitting from the booming RDF market in order to better regulate it.
Mr Burton said that while the Environment Agency “needs to police it a bit better”, the RDF industry is “more legitimate than is being publicised – the stories suggest it is a dirty industry but actually hauliers wouldn’t take it if it is wet or smelly, and incinerators don’t want material like that because it needs to be burned”.
He said: “I am not aware of any RDF being returned to the UK – it is quite a good example of an industry that is working. At the start people were a little bit more naïve but people are becoming a bit more aware of it.”
Andusia, which moved to its current headquarters in Hertford earlier this year, employs four people and effectively works as an agent for RDF, now sourcing around 250,000 tonnes per year of RDF from suppliers in the UK and overseeing its transportation abroad to its energy-from-waste (EfW) customers in the likes of the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.
Agency figures for 2014 (see letsrecycle.com story) show that Andusia Recovered Fuels exported just under 80,000 tonnes of RDF between January and April. This makes it the third largest exporter behind SITA UK (120,000 tonnes) and Biffa (116,000 tonnes) over the period, leading to the firm’s claim that it is the UK’s ‘largest independent RDF company’.
Mr Burton added: “If we didn’t do what we do, firstly it would probably go to another company, but otherwise it would go to landfill. We are not taking anything away from the UK market – we are just selling what the UK cannot landfill.”
Fellow co-director at the firm, Stewart Brackenbury added that the company nevertheless welcomed Defra’s recent call for evidence on the UK’s rapidly growing RDF market and greater government scrutiny “because it benefits the market to be more legitimate”.
There is nothing wrong politically and environmentally with what we do. We are burning it [RDF] and getting power from it. Unless you reduce the volume of residual waste what do you do? It has got to be a big advantage over landfill.
In its call for evidence, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), highlighted he introduction of clearer minimum standards for RDF as a possible proposal, as well as raising concerns that exporting the material could see the UK losing a valuable resource (see letsrecycle.com story).
Responding to Defra’s call for evidence earlier this year, the likes of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and waste management firms Viridor and SITA UK, all opposed the idea of a defined standard for RDF (see letsrecycle.com story).
But, also speaking to letsrecycle.com, Mr Brackenbury – who previously worked at Wastelink and Greenstar before setting up Andusia Recovered Fuels in February 2012 – said he was not against the government bringing in defined RDF standards.
He said: “There is already some sort of standard in place because it [RDF] has to meet the standard of the treatment plant. But I think an overall standard would be helpful.”
However, Mr Brackenbury added that a defined standard could go too far and undermine the type of material that some energy-from-waste plants are seeking: “You don’t want to go to a ridiculous degree to produce something no one wants.”
Alongside the RDF export market in the UK, business for Andusia Recovered Fuels has grown significantly since the firm was officially established in February 2012 as an offshoot from small Skegness-based recycling and baling company Andusia Ltd.
According to co-director Mr Burton – who worked at Cleanaway, Greenstar and Reconomy before joining Mr Brackenbury at Andusia – the RDF firm is now exporting 250,000 tonnes of material each year with a turnover of £16 million.
The company was exporting around 100,000 tonnes a year ago and Mr Burton expects the company to be overseeing the export of around 350,000 tonnes of RDF in a year’s time.
Mr Burton said: “We have a good reputation – we get introduced by our partners and contacts to others because we do the right thing. We have always got plenty of healthy interest from people. If this market turns out to be a 20 million tonne market, then having 20% of that may not be ridiculous suggestion.”