Energy from waste vital to meet landfill targets – Defra

Progress is being made on diverting more landfill to recycling and composting but energy from waste must play a much greater role if the UK is to meet its European targets, according to Defra.

Reiterating the department’s position on EfW, and hinting at the likely outcome of the Government’s revised waste strategy plan following extensive consultation, Defra adviser Melville Haggard told a gathering of waste experts that England would need more infrastructure, and soon, to cope with the double strain of increasing arisings and shrinking landfill allowances.

“At the moment we have about 9% [of England’s municipal solid waste] accounted for by EfW,” he told delegates at an MRW conference on Thursday.

“We’re expecting that to rise to roundabout 27% in 2020.”

He repeated Defra’s standard reassurances that reuse, recycling and composting would still be above EfW in the waste hierarchy and that it was best for decisions about when to stop recycling and start recovering energy would be best made at a local level.

He also insisted that the experience of countries traditionally considered good waste managers, such as Germany and the Netherlands, showed that high levels of recycling were not undermined by extensive use of EfW facilities.

In short, he said, EfW was being seen primarily as a disposal option, but with the added benefits of a small amount of energy recovery and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than landfill.

Mr Haggard said he was not banging the drum for any particular EfW technology over another but said Defra was trying to make life easier for local authorities by providing advice on planning issues and also technical support to allow councils to make informed decisions about which type of facility might be best for their area.

Authorities planning to use EfW as part of their own waste management should not necessarily be waiting for a signed and sealed PFI contract to be landing on their desk, said Mr Haggard, and might be exploring other ways to finance the initial stages of development just to get the ball rolling – whether this mean working with private companies, looking for prudential borrowing or using their own funds.

“There’s a sense of urgency in this,” he said.

“There is a danger that the best could be the enemy of the good in this as we try to work out what we should be doing – there’s a very good case for doing something rather than risk waiting for the perfect solution then missing our targets.”

2010 landfill diversion targets would likely be met through improved recycling and composting rates, he said, but that was unlikely to be true of the tougher 2013 targets and was certainly not the case for those which come into play in 2020.

“2013 and 2020 might seem like a long way off,” he said.

“But the reality is this is significant now because new treatment and disposal infrastructure need to be operational by then, and the building needs to be started now.”

Sam Bond

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