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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Confederation of Paper Industries’ (CPI) stance on the future of waste composition and its influence on Energy from Waste (EfW)

Confederation of Paper Industries

4 min read Partner content

CPI participated in a panel discussion at the RWM 2014 exhibition yesterday (17 September) which addressed the subject of ‘the future of waste composition and its influence on EfW’. Key questions posed to the panel included whether it is possible to predict what our waste streams of the future will look like, and can the UK get the right balance of capacity and waste. Some of the key points CPI sought to put across included the following:

• In 2013, Defra announced that it expected “to have sufficient infrastructure in England to enable the UK to meet the EU target of reducing waste sent to landfill”;
• In 2014, Defra further announced that it “will be stepping back in areas where businesses are better placed to act” and does “not have the capacity to take forward new policy work in areas such as…proactive energy from waste policy development”;
• Ongoing discussion as to whether there will be sufficient residual waste treatment capacity in the UK in 2020 (in order to meet EU Landfill Directive targets) has focused simply on whether there will be theoretical over- or under-capacity. Myriad reports suggest wildly differing scenarios, to the point of differing by more than 30 million tonnes in projections up to 2020;
• Whilst CPI recognises that thermal waste treatment technologies can provide a solution for the disposal of the (genuinely) residual waste fraction over and above landfill, our fundamental concern is the total absence of an integrated and coherent national strategy to address these very questions;
• Currently, limited and poor information on waste arisings provides an incomplete and scattered picture of waste arisings, and conflicting data on treatment capacity make it difficult to make reliable estimates of future infrastructure needs;
• Forecasting future waste arisings involves estimating future behaviour of individuals and businesses and the markets in which they operate which, in turn, are influenced by myriad local, national and international policy and fiscal drivers;
• Neither local authorities, regional planning bodies, nor the private sector can be expected to address these issues by themselves, in the absence of a national policy reference framework, and
• To be able to predict future infrastructure requirements, one must understand current needs first. At the very least, this must address:

- Types and quantities of waste materials: obtaining comprehensive and contemporary compositional information (for both municipal and commercial industrial wastes) is essential to establish a baseline on which to carry out proper analysis;
- Locations of waste arisings, including information on how waste is contained and how frequently it is collected;
- Type and location of existing/planned waste treatment facilities and other reprocessing facilities or end markets that could make use of the produced outputs.

Stuart Pohler, CPI’s Recovered Paper Sector Manager commented:

“Government has seemingly washed its hands of a potentially looming disaster; not least for ‘Recycling UK’. Both the private and public sectors continue to invest £Billions in long-term waste treatment infrastructure projects, yet in total isolation from the bigger picture.

“By coincidence, on the same day as our RWM panel discussion, heavy criticism was levelled at the government by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee which concluded that long-term PFI contracts lasting 25-30 years “may be inappropriate for the waste sector”.

“What is clear from previous waste composition analyses is that recyclable materials still constitute a significant part of the residual waste stream. Moreover, not only does potential infrastructure over-capacity pose a risk to latent recyclable material in current ‘waste’, but also recyclables directly collected from households, businesses and other sources for the original purpose of recycling. The lower the material quality, the lower the value and so greater the risk that it will be ‘recovered’ via EfW down the line, instead of being recycled.

“If we are to avoid walking blindly towards burning significant quantities of paper and other valuable resources, then an integrated waste management infrastructure strategy MUST be developed as a matter of priority, in order to establish future infrastructure needs.

“Undoubtedly, there will be short to medium term cost implications, but these pale into utter insignificance in the face of potential costs associated with continuing to ‘pin the tail on the donkey’. Such flagrant short-termism could set us back years, if not decades.

“Government buy-in is essential to meeting these challenges, and CPI urges Government to re-think its diminishing role in the resource sector, in the face of the clear risks and opportunities presented by a genuine shift towards a Circular Economy model.”

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