1 August 2019 by Steve Eminton

RDF under pressure as Amsterdam backs restrictions

Amsterdam council is supporting a call by the Dutch Waste Management Association for the Netherlands to import less waste for incineration because of the part-closure of the city’s energy from waste plant.

Any restrictions could further hit the UK’s export of RDF – refuse derived fuel – with the Netherlands the major importer from the UK. Latest figures suggest that in May the country’s energy from waste (EfW) plants took about 50% of UK and Ireland exports of RDF at around 120,000 tonnes. Typically about 1.4m tonnes or RDF is exported from the UK annually to the Netherlands.

No RDF has been taken in by AEB, the operator of the huge energy from waste plant in Amsterdam since May 2019. Consequently, some other Dutch incinerator operators are understood to have agreed to take in UK material but the plants are also taking in additional volumes of Dutch waste, which has been welcomed by the country’s government and Amsterdam council.

The AEB plant (archive picture)

The situation is said to be putting pressure on UK waste management companies and brokers who export RDF to Holland to ensure they have outlets for the material.

UK exporters

Environment Agency RDF export figures show that the largest overall exporters by company in May saw Biffa export 26,000 tonnes, closely followed at 25,000 tonnes by Geminor UK, although the tonnages which went to Holland are not stated.

One exporter, Renewi, which was a supplier of RDF to AEB, told letsrecycle.com that: “Renewi is continuing to carefully monitor the situation to ensure that all services are delivered to our customers. We remain committed to working with our partners within the UK and Netherlands to source alternative outlets during this period of downtime at AEB.”

AEB is described as the world’s largest EfW facility on one site with a 1.4 million tonnes capacity – current capacity is down to 30%, about 420,000 tonnes.

Sector experts have told letsrecycle.com that it is impossible for all the displaced RDF from Amsterdam and other Dutch incinerators to find a home in energy from waste plants.

Competition

The situation is being exacerbated by competition for waste incineration in northern Europe from German and Italian RDF with suppliers looking for outlets in Scandinavia, Holland and elsewhere. Spot gate fees for material are also said to be moving up to the higher part of the current letsrecycle.com price indicator range of £93-100. There is an expectation that prices will rise in August.

The only alternative, one exporter told letsrecycle.com, is for the waste to be landfilled in the UK.

In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is aware of the Amsterdam problem and is monitoring developments. Defra had already instructed the Environment Agency to carry out a study into landfill capacity in the UK should a Brexit no-deal situation mean that waste exports are delayed and material had to be landfilled. This information from this study is thought also to be relevant now to the impact from AEB – the Agency found that there is sufficient landfill capacity to cope in an emergency.

AEB Amsterdam (archive picture)

But, one challenge for waste management companies who own landfills will be ensuring sufficient cell are available and securing approval from the Environment Agency for construction plans.

The Amsterdam plant is operating only at 30% capacity and can virtually take in only waste from the City of Amsterdam meaning that Dutch commercial waste is without an EfW route in the city.

Restriction

The Netherlands Government’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is assessing the call from the country’s waste association and Amsterdam to restrict waste imports. The pair argue that a restriction would free up incineration capacity for the country’s own waste.

But, so far the Netherlands Government has made no decision. A spokesperson for the Ministry told letsrecycle.com that: “We are monitoring the situation closely and, together with competent authorities and the waste management sector, exploring all options available.”

Even the possible failure of the 30% capacity operational level is being discussed. As a first step, because of fears that the remaining capacity at the plant could cease, the city council has supported a credit for AEB along with one from a group of banks. AEB operates in its own right, but has the city has a 100% shareholder.

This funding lifeline has helped to ensure waste collections in Amsterdam are not disrupted and that sufficient energy is being generated to provide heat to an existing 35,000 households served by the plant’s district heating scheme, said the city council.

One problem area has been bulky waste with collections halted but now resumed. However, problems are significant in the commercial waste sector with material due for combustion now being landfilled in two provinces, Nauerna and Lelystad, not far from Amsterdam after permission was granted by the Dutch Ministry.

Landfill

The landfilling of waste that still has “useful potential” is prohibited in the Netherlands but exemptions to this can be provided for in the “environmental permit”, that has to be amended on approval of the competent authorities, which are usually the provincial administrations.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Ministry of Infrastructure and Water explained: “For the short term, temporary capacity for landfilling of the excess waste of AEB has been found. Whether landfilling on a longer term will occur due to the situation at AEB is not yet clear.”

For a solution to the structural problems at AEB, a restructuring manager has been appointed who will prepare a business restructuring plan

Amsterdam city council, deputy mayor

Amsterdam city council says that the agreement on the temporary disposal of commercial and industrial waste relieves pressure on the national waste processing chain for at least a few weeks. It added that: “The municipality and the government are happy to participate in plans of the waste companies to structurally guarantee waste processing.”

The short-term prospects for the AEB incinerator look difficult although the city council has given a €6 million credit to the plant and banks have given €10 million. Industry experts told letsrecycle.com that the financial support will be crucial for the plant which is unlikely to be at full capacity for several years. Work is however underway to improve the facility to ensure it does have a future, according to sources close to the facility.

Deputy mayor

A spokesperson for Amsterdam’s deputy mayor Kock (Shareholders portfolio) and deputy mayor Van Doorninck (Circular Economy and Sustainability) explained to letsrecycle.com that “because of the part closure of the plant there had been a negative impact on its finances. The funding had been given to help ensure that the 30% remained open, partly to make sure residents continued to get heat from AEB.”

The spokesperson explained that a restructuring manager is being put into the company along with some other new board members and that a number of existing ones, including the chairman, had resigned. The restructuring manager will be looking at the options for the financial and operational future of the plant which is thought to include the possibility of a sale of the facility which is seen as needing investment.

Amsterdam deputy mayor, Udo Kock (picture: Amsterdam council)

It was added by the spokesperson that there were no waste problems in Amsterdam’s streets but that the limited capacity on the Dutch market is a national problem. “It is therefore important that the business community, central government, provinces and municipalities work together on a long-term solution. The municipality of Amsterdam has taken responsibility by providing additional credit to the banks with AEB. As a result, the waste in the city and region can simply be collected and processed. For a solution to the structural problems at AEB, a restructuring manager has been appointed who will prepare a business restructuring plan in the coming weeks.”

Despite 30% of the plant remaining operational, the level of nervousness about the facility has also prompted deputy mayor Kock to ask the restructuring manager and AEB board to look at a “Plan B”.

Cllr Kock said: “A plan B will also be worked out to guarantee the continuity of public services, such as waste processing and heat supply, if, for whatever reason, for example due to safety, the continuity of the current scaled-down operation of AEB is at stake.”

Entrance to the AEB plant, 1 August 2019 (source: AEB webcam)


Conference: The annual letsrecycle.com RDF Conference, with the RDF Group, will be held on 28 November 2019. More details HERE

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