12 September 2017 by Elizabeth Slow

Suez launches capacity report at RWM

Suez is due to officially launch its report into the UK residual waste infrastructure capacity requirements at RWM exhibition today (9 September).

The report, entitled ‘Mind the Gap 2017-2030’, will reaffirm the company’s recent claim that the UK could face a ‘disaster scenario’ in regards to a shortage of waste treatment infrastructure over the next decade (see letsrecycle.com story).

Suez has 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.

The Suez Severnside EfW plant which is now taking waste by rail from the West London Waste Authority area


One key focus of the Suez’s report, is concerns over the effect of re-shoring exports of refuse derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF) on the residual waste infrastructure.

Suez said: “Faced with a shortage of UK energy recovery capacity, as landfill diversion progresses, export of material to surplus energy recovery capacity, principally in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, commenced in earnest in 2011 with the export of 272,000 tonnes of fuel. Exports had reset to 2.37 million tonnes in 2015 and to over three million tonnes in 2016.”

According to the company, as result of the Brexit vote the value of the Pound has fallen with mixed impacts for waste managers.

“The weaker Pound made UK recyclates more attractive to overseas buyers, while overseas supply contracts for waste derived fuels have tended to be renewed in local currency…or Euros, raising the cost for UK exporters”, said the report.

Suez added that the Brexit deal will determine whether UK exports will face cross-border administrative costs and import tariffs, adding that “the prognosis for exports of refuse derived fuel is therefore highly uncertain”.

Trading zones

The report focuses on three trading zones: the M8 corridor, the M62 corridor, and the South East corridor.

Suez stated that in the M8 trading zone – which comprises around 78% of Scotland’s population – landfill void space will continue to decline rapidly. Suez predicts a loss of around 68% of operating active waste landfill sites by 2030, leaving around eight sites operating in the zone.

The company expects this zone to reach its ‘design equilibrium’ for domestic treatment capacity between 2027 and 2030. If the modelled higher recycling performance is achieved, Suez says there is a ‘small risk’ of overcapacity beyond 2038.

In terms of the M62 corridor which encompasses a population in excess of 13 million, stretching from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, Suez says there is a high number of landfill sites and substantial waste capacity void. And, the company says it is likely that the zone will move into energy-from-waste over-capacity between 2024 and 2027 depending on the success of recycling.

However, Suez notes that if re-shoring of exports of RDF and SRF takes place it is likely to result in capacity issues in the short to medium term. The company says this trading zone needs “strong strategic direction and would benefit from policy and regulatory certainty”.

The South East trading zone, encompassing around 20 million people – around 30% of the total UK population – is expected to see a rapid decline in landfill, the company reported.

Suez said: “The zone has also been at the forefront of refuse derived fuel and solid recovered fuel to overseas markets, with around 50% of all exports in 2016 originating within its boundaries.”

After producing a ‘delivery forecast’ of new facilities – before and after Brexit – the company says in both scenarios, there will still be a need for landfill through to at least 2028.

“Over-capacity will occur only with unconstrained fuel export growth through to 2030,” Suez added.

More treatment

In summary of its findings, Suez said the three trading zones in 2017 require significantly more treatment than they have in place.

The company said: “Taking into account waste growth and projections of new waste infrastructure deployment based on current trends, we estimate the national net capacity gap for energy-from-waste and other non-landfill residual waste treatment facilities to be around 4.6 million tonnes in 2025 and around 2.4 million tonnes in 2030, albeit with significant zonal variations, assuming no re-shoring of exported refuse derived fuel and solid recovered fuel beyond that modelled.”

The report finds that landfil capacity is declining faster than anticipated, with areas such as the South East facing ‘virtual elimination’ of local landfill site access by 2025.

Suez says: “Without decisive policy action, there is a risk that the UK’s hard-won resource productivity gains of the past 15 years will stagnate, or worse slide into reverse.”

“We still send to landfill upwards of 26.6 million tonnes per year of active residual waste in 2030. Landfill capacity will also be required for wastes such as inert or some hazardous materials which are not included in these figures.”

The report outlines a series of recommendations for the government which include admitting there is a capacity gap and for DEFRA to work with waste management sector to agree the scale of the problem; addressing the UK’s infrastructure requirements within the National Infrastructure Assessment Programme; and, creating and maintaining a stable long-term policy framework.

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