Between £26-35 billion is needed to transform the UK’s waste infrastructure to meet future demands, according to an economics report from Suez UK.
“The Economics of Change in the Resources and Waste Sector”, paper assesses the key economic drivers within the waste industry and how substantial investment will be needed to meet environmental targets set by current and upcoming government policy – such as the 2050 goal for carbon neutrality and proposals in the Resources and Waste Strategy.
Suez’s report breaks down the costs of various changes needed within the industry with an array of figures to reach the estimated needs total. It also notes that £10 billion has been spent so far on transitioning away from landfill and towards recycling, energy from waste and anaerobic digestion, it is suggested, yet the report states that another £10 billion will be needed to complete this move.
The financial impact of other policies in the Resources and Waste Strategy is also calculated. In excess of £600 million would be needed for a full stock replacement of household bins to achieve consistency across the UK, whilst up to £1 billion needs to be invested in 30 to 100 new anaerobic digestion facilities to meet increased demand from compulsory local authority food waste collections.
But, Suez has not included the bin change costs in its calculations as it does not consider them necessary. It estimates that the costs of creating consistency in local authority collections will be spread over five to ten years.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK, commented that new policies would add value to waste streams which are currently seen as niche, requiring the development of new technology and products to process them.
He said: “The resources and waste sector has seen massive change over the past decade, and actors in our sector have invested more than ten billion in the transition away from landfill, moving waste materials further up the waste hierarchy.
“However SUEZ believes, as is set out in this short report, that the coming transition over the next twenty years will be even more radical, and will require accelerated investment more than three times greater than that made over the past decade or so.”
Mr Palmer-Jones added that the waste sector must “consider what to do” in light of carbon-emissions targets and the need for action on the environment and biodiversity.
Suez’s report also looks at Wales’ waste infrastructure – which is achieving recycling rates of over 60% – about 15% higher than England. Suez suggests that “Wales could be seen as a potential future for English expenditure and performance.”
The net cost of recycling in Wales is around £54 per household more than in England, but this gives a return of higher recycling levels, the report finds. If England were to increase recycling expenditure to Welsh levels it would cost at least £1 billion, which Suez estimates is the amount that can be expected from the introduction of full net cost recovery (FNCR) under the proposals for extended producer responsibility (EPR).
The importance of extended producer responsibility (EPR) in the future is emphasised. Author Stuart Hayward‑Higham, technical development director at Suez UK, remarked: “One might suggest that the increased recovery of recycled materials could deliver increased income for local authorities, but this is unlikely to be sufficient to counter the expected cost increases in delivering the new or amended services and will therefore fall to the extended producer responsibility payment.
“This does not mean that the value of recycled materials is not material, only that the scale of value when translated to the services delivered to each household or business is relatively minor in comparison.”
Suez UK, Economics of change report