Veolia ramps up circular economy drive with Leeds EfW plant opening

Waste management firm Veolia has opened a giant energy-from-waste (EfW) facility in Leeds, in the same week that the company has reported positive progress towards achieving 'circularity' in 40% of its operations by the year 2020.

The 11MW Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility, which officially opened yesterday (15 November), will extract recyclable waste from black bins collected by Leeds City Council and recover energy from what is left over, with the ability to manage up to 214,000 tonnes of waste each year.

The plant will generate enough electricity to power 22,000 homes via the National Grid and will boost Leeds’ recycling rates in its aim of becoming a zero-waste city.

Veolia UK and Ireland senior executive vice president Estelle Brachlianoff said: “Leeds is a shining example of a circular economy hub transforming unwanted materials into an important resource. The partnership will continue to drive recycling rates and look for more solutions to material streams.

“Together we have created an iconic facility which is an attractive landmark for Leeds and more importantly a sustainable solution for the city’s waste for generations to come.” 

Dubbed “the greenhouse”, the building housing the EfW plant features a 42-metre vertical living wall – the largest of its kind in Europe. The plant also incorporates a range of energy and water-saving features such as rainwater harvesting and sustainable drainage systems

In the future, the facility will use a combined heat and power (CHP) system to generate hot water and heating to local homes, buildings and potentially schools and hospitals in Leeds.

Circular dreams

The plant supports Veolia’s ambitions to become a company at the forefront of a resource revolution. In its latest sustainability report released on Monday, the company revealed that more than 20% of the business is now operating through a circular economy approach.

In the UK, Veolia diverted up to 98% of customer waste from landfill last year, and generated sufficient low-carbon and renewable energy to power the equivalent of over 1.5 million homes.

Veolia helped customers save 2.2 million tCO2e in 2015, thanks to more than 545,000MWh and 1,100GWh of electricity generated from landfills and energy recovery facilities respectively.

The report revealed that Veolia is now using the latest data-driven technologies to reduce water leakages from an industry average of 22% to below 4%. The company also helped industry to recycle around 300 million litres of water for re-use last year.

Upon the launch of the report, Brachlianoff said:We need to be even bolder in realising that the circular economy presents for the UK right now. For our customers, tomorrow’s environmental challenges require action and innovation today and in the last year our activities have reduced carbon emissions by 2.15 million tonnes.

“This emphasises our progess, and the future opportunities for our customers and the communities we serve.”

Hidden mine

Veolia’s vision of achieving a closed loop business has led to the company undergoing a series of innovative new processes, such as turning previously unrecycled plastic bags into refuse sacks.

Earlier this month, Veolia released a report which revealed that companies located in “strategically important” sectors in the UK are currently sitting on a £4bn “hidden mine” that can only be unlocked by transitioning to a circular economy that turns waste into a monetary and valuable resource.

Veolia’s head of circular economy Forbes McDougall has previously told edie that energy, heat and water were often overlooked as part of the circular economy.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie