Additional Waste to Energy & Material Recycling Infrastructure Needed

ESA Report Warns of 6m TPA Waste Infrastructure Capacity Gap in UK by 2030

A briefing from the Environmental Services Association has found that by 2030 there will be a 6 million tonne per year capacity gap for waste infrastructure in the UK.

Closing the forecast 6 million tonne capacity gap would lead to £4.5 billion capital investment.

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A briefing from the Environmental Services Association (ESA) has found that by 2030 there will be a 6 million tonne per year capacity gap for waste infrastructure in the UK.

The briefing was produced for ESA, a trade association which represents the UK’s resource and waste management industry, by Tolvik Consulting. Highlights include:

  • Recycling rates are unlikely to rise much above current levels, which would leave the UK six million tonnes short of treatment capacity by 2030, even after factoring in a continuation of waste exports to the EU and the development of some currently unplanned facilities
  • Boosting recycling rates above the industry’s expected range of 50-55% is likely to cost at least £1.5 billion and will require significant government intervention to support markets for recycled materials
  • Closing the forecast 6 million tonne capacity gap would lead to £4.5 billion capital investment, 1,500 permanent jobs in the waste sector and almost 7500 jobs in the construction phase; and
  • The additional energy from waste facilities would produce almost 0.5GW of electricity, capable of powering around 720,000 homes.

Commenting on the report, ESA executive director Jacob Hayler said:

“The waste and recycling industry is alarmed by the emergence of a critical lack of infrastructure to treat the nation’s waste.

“ESA’s Members have invested around £5 billion in UK recycling and recovery facilities in the past five years and completed detailed modelling exercises to understand what further investment is required for the future. Their conclusions are stark: by 2030 the UK needs faces a shortfall of six million tonnes of waste treatment capacity.

“Without action, this means that five million UK homes will see their waste buried in landfill when it could be used to generate energy, helping to safeguard the UK’s energy supplies. We urgently need the government to recognise the waste crisis the UK is facing and give the industry the long term clarity it needs to invest in new energy from waste facilities.”

Tolvik’s analysis supports the waste and recycling industry’s view that the UK is heading for serious under-capacity for the treatment of waste which cannot be recycled.

As landfills close at an uneven rate around the country some regions will be left with no landfills and no replacement infrastructure before the end of this Parliament.

Tolvik Director Adrian Judge said: “Current policy uncertainty, particularly in England, is discouraging investment into the sector, which desperately needs new infrastructure both for recycling and for energy from waste facilities. This is creating the risk of a mismatch between waste tonnages and available treatment capacity, which could lead to significant quantities of waste without a home by 2030.”

Thumbs Up from SUEZ
The report compiles and compares the findings of a wealth of research into current and future residual waste treatment capacity in the UK, which has been produced over the past year by a range of the waste sector’s leading companies, including SUEZ.

According to SUEZ, at a national level, the Tolvik report demonstrates that there is uniformity between the individual capacity forecasts made by each of the major industrial players in the sector (those responsible for investing in the sector) – with only one divergent view. It clearly shows that the UK has, and will continue to have a capacity gap for the treatment of residual waste by means other than landfill.

The company noted that although the ESA goes as far as to call for more energy from waste capacity in its commentary on the report, SUEZ continues to take a “portfolio” approach to its mix of waste treatment infrastructure investment. However, SUEZ reiterates the ESA’s plea for clear ambition and long-term policy direction from Government to determine where future investment should occur in terms of both technology and geography.

All models in the research recognise the current importance of exports of residual, recycling and hazardous wastes to Europe and the need for time to transition to domestic treatment solutions. Refuse derived fuel exports are expected to continue in all the models, with variance only occurring in the scale of export. SUEZ considers that gradual on-shoring of materials should, and will, occur with the right policy and market conditions.

Stuart Hayward-Higham, author of Mind the Gap 2017-2013 and Technical Development Director at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK said:

“It is important that this is not viewed as the waste industry attempting to secure more energy from waste capacity than the nation needs. To the contrary, overstating the case for investment would only damage companies, like SUEZ, which continue to invest billions of private capital to provide this vital infrastructure.

“Our industry is not calling for subsidies, or to be propped up by the public purse. Our only requirement is political leadership to guide and safeguard future investment by our sector in the UK through towards 2050. This leadership is just as vital for local authorities who are setting their long term strategies and procuring major infrastructure or services.

“If, as a nation, we are to set out an ambition to reach a high level of recycling (beyond 60%) – investing in the recycling value stream rather than energy-from-waste – this will require much wider-reaching policy which seeks to facilitate new domestic markets for recycled products and influence the whole product and packaging lifecycle –from design through consumption, collection, reprocessing and manufacturing.

“The capacity gap will become a capacity crisis if we eschew energy-from-waste in favour of high-reaching recycling targets without robust policy action (and associated investment) to back it up.

“However, it is firmly our belief that this value stream approach needs to be considered at a regional level, which may result in different outputs for different regions dependent on the region’s role within the circular economy.

“For example, the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine already have very different treatment capacity outlooks compared with the South East and will likely have very different future resource needs.

“Our own analysis has been more granular than most, looking at the regional dimension to infrastructure need and delivery. We need to ensure we have the right technology in the right place at the right time.”

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