‘Significant gaps’ in regional waste infrastructure, study finds

There are significant capacity gaps in regional infrastructure, in England, to treat valuable materials which arise as wastes, a new report commissioned by waste management company Veolia Environnement has found.

The report is entitled ‘Waste Infrastructure Requirements for England’. Veolia commissioned researchers at Imperial College London (Centre for Environmental Policy) to produce the report. This new report challenges a similar study which was published by the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) last year.

Defra’s report looked at whether there was enough waste recovery infrastructure for England’s municipal waste as a whole, and found that while the level of net capacity is what Defra describes as “uncertain”, the mean surplus of capacity in 2020 is estimated to be 2.4m tonnes.

However, in Veolia’s new report it questioned the “framing of the overall Defra approach”, particularly in regards to “the limitations in the forecast model used… and assumptions made”, which it argues could be “misleading, particularly when used for the types of decisions for which they provided support”.

As a result of this, Veolia commissioned its own report to “review the methodology used [by Defra] to estimate capacity needs across the UK”, as it argues that “the methodological approach is critical as the potential of the findings to support decision making will depend on the validity of the assumptions and the calculations used”.

Using a different methodology, the Waste Infrastructure Requirements for England report found that Defra’s findings were “rather misleading” and that on the basis that “future infrastructure requirements need to be technology specific, appropriate to different waste streams and… that waste cannot generally be transported from one end of the UK to the other without long-term consequences”, there exists “significant capacity gaps” at a regional level.

The report argued that Defra’s aggregation of waste composition and treatment capacity nationally, may “disguise regional variations and lead to the assumption that one region’s [capacity] surplus can meet another region’s deficit”. This, the report argues, may not be practical due to the cost and practicalities of transporting waste long-distances.

Commenting on the report, Veolia technical director Richard Kirkman said: “[This] report by researchers at Imperial College London and commissioned by Veolia, reveals significant capacity gaps in regional infrastructure to treat valuable materials which arise as wastes and could be reused to create new materials and energy.

“The report crystallises concerns that instead of being at the forefront of the circular economy, we will have insufficient resources recovery infrastructure in the future and hamper the growth of the green manufacturing sector – a twenty year mistake!

“By taking a regional approach focusing on individual waste streams not en masse, regional treatment facilities close to where they arise and the use of appropriate technologies, the flaws in a national aggregated methodology are revealed.”

Liz Gyekye

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