UK heading for waste treatment overcapacity, new report finds

The UK is at risk of having far more incineration capacity than it needs by 2017/18, according to a new report by resource management consultancy Eunomia.

Eunomia finds that the UK is at risk of having more residual waste treatment plants than it needs

Eunomia finds that the UK is at risk of having more residual waste treatment plants than it needs

Eunomia has published its findings in the seventh edition of its bi-annual Residual Waste Infrastructure Review.

The report's findings indicate that if infrastructure construction and waste exports both proceed as expected, the UK's residual waste treatment capacity will exceed supply in 2017/18.

The report claims that if export of residual waste is stopped altogether, and no further capacity is built other than that which is already in construction, overcapacity will be reached in 2023/24. In both cases it is assumed that the UK makes steady progress towards current and prospective statutory targets for recycling, according to the study.

EC recycling target

Elsewhere, the report finds that the UK has more incineration capacity either currently operational or being built than is needed if the country is to hit the 70% recycling target being discussed by the European Commission.

According to Eunomia, these facilities are collectively capable of processing 17.7m tonnes per annum (tpa) of residual waste. This will mean that the UK's maximum recycling rate in 2030 will be limited to 66%, according to Eunomia.

Additionally, facilities with capacity to treat a further 14m tpa residual waste have planning consent. Eunomia said that whilst it is unlikely that all of this capacity will be built, it is very likely that some will, further impacting the maximum possible recycling rate.

Report author Adam Baddeley said that it was important that when investing in major infrastructure "we think for the long term".

He added: "We have already seen a number of northern European countries reach a position where they have more incineration capacity than residual waste.

"The UK is at risk of joining their ranks. Instead of committing further resources to expensive residual waste treatment, we should be looking at how to derive greater value from our waste through recycling.

"There are clearly investment opportunities in the waste sector, but it no longer seems wise to commit to more incineration that may not be needed for all of its working life."

The report contradicts findings in reports published by resource management firms SITA UK and Veolia Environnement earlier this year.

SITA UK claimed that the UK will not have enough energy-from-waste (EfW) infrastructure to process the amount of waste being produced by 2015.

SITA also estimates that the UK needs to invest up to £25 billion in new treatment infrastructure by 2025/30 if all the waste currently going to landfill is to be diverted and treated.

According to SITA, as there is no central resource for commercial and industrial waste data, the industry has found it difficult to forecast residual waste volumes and plan accordingly.

Liz Gyekye
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