UK playing 'risky' game with heavy reliance on RDF/SRF exports
Future market volatility around refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF) could put the UK's renewable energy strategy at risk, new research has warned.
A report published today (July 31) by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) highlights a number of key issues for regulators and policy-makers with regard to the export of RDF and SRF.
In particular, it raises questions about the long term viability of this export trade for the UK's waste industry in the context of broader strategic objectives with regard to waste, resources and energy.
The report suggests that the RDF/SRF currently being exported could contribute up to 5% of the UK and Ireland's renewable energy targets, provided new energy recovery infrastructure can be brought on-stream with high efficiency standards.
However if exports continue, then the UK needs to consider whether demand from near-EU countries for its waste-derived fuel is likely to continue at the same level and the implications if it doesn't.
Potentially, more waste-derived fuel could become available in the European marketplace as a number of newer EU member states look to rapidly increase their landfill diversion rates to meet EU targets.
While there is no available data to predict this level of risk, the study suggests it is reasonable to conclude that reliance on exports in the longer term and lack of online domestic energy-from-waste capacity could, in particular, leave England and Ireland exposed to more volatile markets in the future.
There are also issues over standards and illegal exports, particular with RDF. The report has found that most RDF receiving facilities require no quality threshold, potentially resulting in unsorted or inadequately sorted waste being exported.
From a longer term strategic perspective, while such exports provide a cost-effective alternative to landfill, the approach does not dovetail with the desired direction of travel towards greater resource efficiency and security.
Instead, it has the potential to negatively impact on the development of new domestic recovery and recycling infrastructure, representing a convenience that may come at a cost in the future.
According to CIWM chief executive Steve Lee, a more rigorous enforcement framework needs to be put in place in the short-term while work is carried out to assess the viability of developing a classification system or minimum pre-treatment standard for RDF.
"We believe this is an essential measure to ensure that valuable material resources are not being lost to the domestic reprocessing industry and the UK/Irish economy as a whole," he said.
"We need to better understand and quantify the extent to which this trade could compromise investment in domestic infrastructure and the UK and Ireland's ability to fulfil their obligations with regard to moving waste up the hierarchy and moving towards a more resource efficient and circular economy."