Waste and resources consultancy, Eunomia, has released its latest Residual Waste Infrastructure Review in which it states that that the UK has more incineration capacity either currently operational or being built than is needed, and that capacity will exceed supply by 2017/18.
The report, the seventh issue from Eunomia on the subject, says that the UK’s facilities have a 17.7m tonnes per annum capacity, but that UK recycling will be limited to a maximum of 66% in 2030, still short of the European Commission targets of 70%. And it adds that there is planning consent for facilities with a further 14m tap capacity for residual waste, and although all may not be built, those that are will impact on the potential recycling rates.
The report states that if infrastructure for construction and waste exports both proceed as expected, the UK’s residual waste treatment capacity will exceed supply in 2017/18. If export of residual waste is stopped altogether, and no further capacity is built other than that which is already in construction, overcapacity will be reached in 2023/24. In both cases it is assumed that the UK makes steady progress towards current and prospective statutory targets for recycling.
The report goes on to say that the long lifespan of facilities, such as incinerators, and the lengthy periods needed to pay back capital costs, mean that over-investment now will leave the UK facing difficult and unattractive choices in the future, such as whether to accept recycling rates limited by incineration, potentially in breach of future EU recycling targets; to expensively mothball incinerators, potentially requiring operators to be compensated; or even to import waste from overseas to burn here.
Adam Baddeley, the report’s lead author said: “It is important that when investing in major infrastructure we think for the long term. We have already seen a number of northern European countries reach a position where they have more incineration capacity than residual waste.
“The UK is at risk of joining their ranks. Instead of committing further resources to expensive residual waste treatment, we should be looking at how to derive greater value from our waste through recycling. There are clearly investment opportunities in the waste sector, but it no longer seems wise to commit to more incineration that may not be needed for all of its working life.”