Impact Of Brexit On RDF Exports Explored In New CIWM Report

A report published by CIWM explores the range of factors shaping the future of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) exports from the UK and the Republic of Ireland, including the impact of Brexit on market conditions and controls.

RDF trading in a modern world”, launched at CIWM’s presidential inauguration in Dublin last night (14 November), explores the current landscape for RDF exports and models possible future scenarios, taking into account factors including potential rises in recycling rates as a result of the EU Circular Economy Package (EU CEP) targets, development of more domestic EfW capacity in some countries, and the impact of Brexit on market conditions and controls.

To inform understanding of the future outlook for exports, SLR Consulting Ltd, who produced the research,developed mass balance projections for waste sectors in the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

Overall, forecasts indicate that in the event that the EU CEP 2030 requirement for 60% recycling is achieved, RDF exports will contract dramatically.

At an individual country level, however, the research shows a range of different market dynamics emerging.

RDF exports from the Republic of Ireland peaked in 2014 at 557 kt but have fallen steadily since to 327 kt in 2017. A furtherreduction in RDF export tonnages is expected as new domestic EfW capacity is developed, and recycling rates increase.

SLR director Alban Forster – “In all countries, RDF exports continue to play a valuable interim role diverting material from landfill. For the UK, however, the Brexit process nevertheless raises the possibility that the practice of exporting RDF will become less economic…”

On a per capita basis, Northern Ireland has the greatest reliance on RDF exports, and this reliance is likely to continue until domestic EfW projects are successfully developed.

In England, build out of domestic EfW capacity may erode RDF export tonnages, while future recycling levels are pivotal to the long term outlook for exports.

The report states that in the current absence of a national strategy to increase recycling levels, it is not possible to project the recycling rate ultimately achieved by England with any certainty – however it is clear that, accounting for expected domestic EfW capacity, achievement of circular economy recycling targets in England implies the cessation of large scale RDF exports.

Scottish local authorities may look to expand RDF exports to meet the 2021 ban on landfill of biodegradable waste – though some may also opt to comply via haulage of residual waste to EfW facilities or landfills in the North of England. In the longer term, Scottish residual treatment requirements are likely to be met by emerging Scottish EfW capacity.

With strong recycling performance and two major EfW facilities in the North and South, Wales is likely to have limited reliance on RDF exports. By specifically targeting residual waste treatment funding to domestic EfW projects, Welsh Government disincentives export.


The report highlights the “significant uncertainty” posed by Brexit, and acknowledges that the potential impact for the UK is difficult to assess at this point in time.

SLR director Alban Forster said: “In all countries, RDF exports continue to play a valuable interim role diverting material from landfill. For the UK, however, the Brexit process nevertheless raises the possibility that the practice of exporting RDF will become less economic. While it looks likely that tariffs will not apply to RDF, an onerous customs regime would add to transport times and administrative burdens.”

“The UK Government can help to limit these impacts by pressing for continuing free movement of RDF, regardless of the ultimate outcome of Brexit negotiations,” says CIWM Executive Director Chris Murphy.

“CIWM has been keeping a close eye on developments, and liaising with Defra as they work to ensure that regulatory alignment is maintained post-Brexit, even in the event of a no-deal scenario. However, other factors such as border controls and delays, and haulage costs, could also adversely affect the economics of RDF export. Regulators across the UK will need to be alert to a number of risks in the event of significant disruption, including stockpiling and a greater risk of waste crime.”


Alongside the report, Enda Kiernan (pictured right), CIWM’s newly inaugurated president, highlighted the importance of future infrastructure development, noting that “the poor quality of infrastructure in Ireland has been identified as the most problematic factor for doing business in this country.”

With the population of the island predicted to reach 8m people by 2040, he said: “Planning for an extra 1.5m people, their homes, places of work and the infrastructure required to support this growth, whilst at the same time ensuring environmental quality, poses many challenges.“

Linking to his presidential report, he said the report recognises that RDF exports now play a significant role in the management of residual waste in the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

“However, uncertainties exist around the future of the industry. Pressures include the possible impact of rising recycling rates coupled with growing domestic energy from waste capacity, as well as ramifications of Brexit on the economics of export from the UK. In this context, CIWM commissioned the 2018 Presidential Report to assess the current state of the RDF exports, and consider how the sector may evolve out to 2030,” he explained.

Mr Kiernan also took the opportunity of his inauguration to highlight the dynamic community of professionals that CIWM represents and the value of the contribution that members make.

“I applaud and salute every one of our members for their voluntary work on which the Institution depends to function effectively. In turn, CIWM gives our members a vehicle through which we make an impact on society,” he said.

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