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Resource Not Waste

McCarthy Marland questions the amount of energy from waste capacity being developed in the UK.  The extract below was written for the Bristol Post by Alex Marland in August 2013

Resource Note Waste | News | McCarthy Marland

Is the UK building too much Energy from Waste (EfW) capacity?

Over the past 15 years plus, waste producers have seen their waste collection and disposal costs rise every year over and above the rate of inflation.  The main reason for this is the Landfill Tax Escalator which has increased the standard rate of Landfill Tax annually, from its introduction in October 1996 at £7 per tonne, to £72 per tonne today.

The Landfill Tax Escalator was introduced to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill and is applied by HMRC to landfill operators.  Landfill operators pass this tax down to waste collection contractors delivering waste to their landfill site and the waste collection contractors then pass the tax down again to the waste producer.  This demonstrates the relationship between HMRC taxing the waste industry and businesses and organisations producing waste in both the private and public sector.

The result of landfill tax is that waste producers are looking for alternatives to landfill for their waste to reduce costs.  To date, the most economic route for the majority of waste currently diverted from landfill has been through recycling markets.  Owing to annual increases in landfill tax new markets for recyclables have developed and historic markets continue to mature.

These new markets are presenting opportunities for waste producers to start segregating their waste materials and receive value from them as a resource rather than disposing of them at a cost.

UK public sector waste producers (Councils) are now well under way with this and are increasing their recycling percentages annually.  Additionally there are significant recycling developments in the commercial and industrial sector where over the past 2 to 3 years the cost of waste disposal has started to take hold and many businesses producing large volumes of waste are now segregating it into valuable resources such as cardboard, paper and plastic.  These businesses are performing waste segregation at source (on their own sites) and baling the segregated materials ready for direct sale into the recycling market.  Additionally, some larger businesses that have multiple sites around the country -  such as supermarket chains and other large retail chains - are distributing goods into their network of retail outlets by road and returning to their distribution centre with segregated materials for baling and onward trading into the recyclate market.

Consequently these materials, which were once being handled by traditional waste management companies, are now no longer waste and are being sold directly by the producer as a resource. 

At the other end of the market businesses not producing large volumes of waste are also taking action to reduce disposal costs by using commingled recyclable collection services.  This service enables the waste producer to put all their recyclables (cardboard, paper, plastic, tin cans, etc) into one recycling container and all their non-recyclables in another residual waste container.  The contents of the residual waste container are usually landfilled or disposed of through EfW and the contents of the commingled container are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).  At a MRF the contents of the commingled container are segregated into pre selected resource streams by the waste contractor and sold into the recyclate market.

The above clearly demonstrates how commercial waste producers have easily and cost effectively become more involved in recycling, which is reducing the amount of residual waste available in the market.  This gradual conversion of waste to a resource is concerning towards the long term viability of EfW projects because EfW plants require waste as a fuel which is gradually becoming scarcer owing to the effects of recycling.

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