Additional 15mt Recycling & Waste to Energy Capacity Needed in UK & Ireland

With a projected 58 million tpa of C&I waste likely to be generated by 2020 there is likely to be a capacity gap for waste treatment capacity in the UK and Ireland of up to 15 million tonnes, according to a new report from consultants Ricardo-AEA.

With a projected 58 million tonnes of Commercial & Industrial (C&I) waste likely to be generated by 2020, unless new projects are put forward in the next 12-24 months there is likely to be a shortfall in waste treatment capacity in the UK and Ireland of up to 15 million tonnes, according to a new report from consultants Ricardo-AEA.

Commissioned by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, the report - Commercial and Industrial Waste in the UK and Republic of Ireland – the report said that C&I waste is the “final piece of the puzzle” for the UK and Ireland’s waste infrastructure landscape.  However, it cautioned that delivering facilities is increasingly challenging without a proper understanding of the nature and future of this feedstock.

Known unknowns

According to the report, the major obstacle to realising opportunities to develop additional waste treatment infrastructure to recycle materials and recover energy from C&I waste, is that it remains a “known unknown”.

The researchers noted that data on C&I waste is extremely poor with operators and regulators alike having a much less certain, understanding of the volumes and composition of this key waste stream unlike Local Authority Collected Municipal Solid Waste (LACMSW) data which is recorded by UK local authorities to government through WasteDataFlow.

This was reported to have hindered the development of new infrastructure, as third party funding has been harder to secure, and contracts have usually been more short-term in nature than long term household waste deals.

As such, the report explained that the risk profiles for merchant facilities with limited data and multiple feedstock sources, are too great for many funders and developers.

“Using the limited publically available waste data for C&I waste prediction purposes forces more of an art than a science approach to the subject. Investors struggle to see this data as reliable and scalable, and are reluctant to fund projects predicated only on this information,” commented Stuart Hayward-Higham, development director at SITA UK

Current infrastructure

The report found that over the past decade the waste management landscape in the UK and Republic of Ireland has changed significantly, with the development of rage of waste to energy and recycling facilities developed as a result of local authority household waste contracts.

Occasionally these facilities have been developed with greater capacity than required to treat the household waste available, enabling them to receive ‘third party’ waste, either from non-contracted waste disposal authorities (WDAs), or from commercial sources.

Other facilities have been developed on a purely ‘merchant’ basis, receiving various tonnages through short term contracts.

However, the report noted that the feedstock risk associated with this model means it relates more to materials recovery facilities or plants with smaller capacities, which do not always take full advantage of economies of scale, rather than major residual waste treatment facilities.

Planning for the future

According to the report, effective planning for future infrastructure is predicated on a thorough understanding of future need for processing facilities, which in turn depends on a robust understanding of future feedstock volumes.

While the report noted that these solid baselines are not currently available, it the authors offer a high level assessment of capacity need.

The capacity projections made in the report are said to be based on a detailed understanding of the current waste facility pipeline and the likelihood (probability) of these facilities making it from proposal through planning and licensing/permitting to fully operational.

Ricardo-AEA’s assessment of pipeline national capacity for sorting, organic and thermal treatment infrastructure suggests that if no new projects came forward, significant amounts of commercial and industrial waste will end up in landfill by 2020.

Based on the assumptions made in the study, the consultants said that future waste treatment capacity in the UK will not be enough to manage the volumes of arising waste from household, commercial and industrial sources.

With limited residual waste management infrastructure currently operational in the Republic of Ireland, here too there is reported to be a need to develop further facilities, especially in the context of reducing landfill capacity.


According to the report the gap between waste treatment capacity and actual waste generation in the UK and Ireland may be anywhere up to 15 million tpa, and is likely to be more than 5 million tpa by 2020.

The report claimed that even if the number of proposed and permitted new facilities is underestimated, there is plenty of feedstock going to be available for new infrastructure, whether this is in the form of residual treatment or, ideally, recycling or organics processing.

“The report identifies the UK's Commercial & Industrial waste market as having significant growth potential for investors and operators in the run-up to 2020 and beyond,” commented David Palmer-Jones, chairman of the Environmental Services Association.

“ESA supports the call for improved data gathering systems to capture more reliable information on current waste arisings and trends, because supply risk is such a key issue in unlocking this potential in planning for future treatment capacity with greater confidence,” he added.

Based on the projections made as part of this study, and the assumption that material recycling and waste to energy facilities need to treat as much C&I, LACMSW and active C&D waste as possible, the report concluded that the current outlook for 2020 clearly suggests that a significant amount of additional infrastructure will need to be developed, beyond what is already planned and proposed.

If this new capacity is to be operational by 2020 or soon after, Ricardo-AEA noted that it needs to be identified, with sites and funding agreed immediately; the challenge is on to close this gap.

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