UK residual waste treatment infrastructure facing troubled future, report suggests

Residual waste treatment infrastructure will be unable to cope with waste volumes over the next ten years, according to a new report published by recycling and waste management firm SITA UK.

UK is heading for residual waste treatment 'capacity shortfall'

UK is heading for residual waste treatment 'capacity shortfall'

The report entitled 'Mind the Gap' predicts that in 2015, 17.8m tonnes of residual waste will need to be landfilled or used as refuse derived fuel in other countries, because there is not enough infrastructure capacity in the UK to make use of it domestically.

Mind the Gap also charts the gap between treatment capacity and the volume of UK residual waste up to 2025 - although this gap will narrow and level out at 5.7m tonnes by 2025 as the volume of residual waste drops against the proportion of materials that have been recycled or avoided altogether.

One of the largest causes of this gap in treatment capacity is a lack of accurate, data, which is needed to underpin investment in new facilities, according to SITA UK. Between 10 and 20 new treatment facilities are required for every million tonnes of waste diverted from landfill.

SITA 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.

As one of the UK's largest recycling and waste management companies, SITA UK treats residual waste material from millions of households across the country and serves approximately 42,000 industrial and commercial customers.

Since SITA UK introduced regular on-board weighing to its industrial and commercial customers, the collected data is providing an increasingly accurate insight into the nature of commercial and industrial waste generation and composition - enabling SITA UK to forecast future trends when allied with available municipal waste data.

The Mind the Gap report makes recommendations which it believes will deliver enough capacity across an appropriate range of treatment methods. This includes the following:

· Improve data capture of industrial and commercial waste by adopting a generic system across industry.
· Introduce stronger incentives and policies to further increase and maintain higher recycling rates.
· Government should issue guidance on the best collection techniques to minimise contamination of recyclate streams.
· Integrate energy recovery from waste into UK energy planning to encourage more domestic use of energy-rich waste derived fuels.
· Incentivise the use of heat produced in energy recovery from waste.

SITA UK chief executive David Palmer-Jones said: "Forward planning in the waste management sector is very challenging, but it is a challenge we must overcome if the UK aspires to become a resource-efficient economy.

"Although the priority is to recycle as much as possible, reducing the volume and maximising the value of residual waste is also key to a circular economy, however, responsible investment in treatment facilities can only be made on the basis of sound evidence.

"That is why, as a front-line operator, we have looked hard at the data we collect and shared our forecasts for residual waste generation over the next ten years and the additional treatment capacity the UK will need if a circular economy is to become a reality."

Liz Gyekye
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