Waste industry heading for perfect storm – Peter Jones

Ex-Biffa director Peter Jones has warned that we're heading for a waste crisis in Britain as landfill becomes full but we lack the infrastructure for more sustainable waste management.

Speaking at an event hosted by clean tech company Ultra Green, Jones, a well-known figure in the industry who sits on a number of high-profile boards advising government and business, said that the ready availability of cheap landfill had meant the sector had not needed to look for other options.

But now, with environmental, economic and legislative drivers making landfill less and less viable, there is not enough time to get the necessary waste facilities planned, paid for and in place.

“I’m technically a pensioner but I’m sticking around to watch this massive crash that will occur in 2012-2013,” he said.

“The waste industry had wasted the last 20 years as low landfill gate fees meant that more sustainable solutions were not particularly attractive.

“We’ve shut off the plug hole, but the water is still flowing into the sink.”

He said we are facing ‘exciting times’ for the industry and ‘nobody but an idiot’ would invest in landfill now.

The trouble is, he added, that investing in the alternatives isn’t an attractive option either.

He said that there is a massive opportunity there financially, but you would not get any corporate giants moving into the sector in the current climate because of the many risks that currently face investors.

Shifting regulation, lack of guaranteed feedstock, uncertainty in the off-take market, and a lack of financial institutions prepared to de-risk investment the or the technology makes putting money into new waste infrastructure something of a gamble, he said.

While there are obstacles to overcome, he said, the potential for the economy and job market is enormous.

He said that the UK currently needs around 1,500 new waste processing facilities and all have the potential to create new employment – most would operate round the clock providing 40-50 shift workers with jobs.

Sam Bond

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