The waste sector has experienced its fair share of change over the past five years and, with a UK general election on the horizon, there is still a high level of uncertainty. Marcus Bauer, MD of Remondis UK, outlines a vision for resource efficiency in the UK. CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
While government and industry currently work together to manage waste, inevitably, with potential political changes on the horizon, the future for waste in the UK can never be certain. With this in mind, it’s imperative that we, as an industry and the only constant in this equation, have a clear strategy in place for the future of waste in the UK.
Whichever party is elected this Spring, and whatever decisions it makes in regards to whose portfolio waste will sit, we need to ensure any waste produced here is treated as a valuable resource. This may sound obvious, but it’s fair to say there is still uncertainty about whether the UK is ready to harness waste’s full potential. Accordingly, do we have the infrastructure, know how, legislation and, perhaps most importantly, the financial support to really make the most of the country’s waste?
At Remondis UK, we are lucky to be able to send our clients’ waste to other Remondis-owned plants across the globe, whether that be our German plant, Lünen, which takes in non-hazardous powders for the production of Radibin, or Bramsche, which takes waste to produce a patented product (renotherm), or to one of our UK facilities, such as SecAnim, a facility dedicated to the production of processed animal proteins. Such a variety of sites means we can make the most of our clients’ waste and not send it to landfill. However, this ability is currently an exception rather than the norm in the UK. This shouldn’t be the case if we are to make the most of the resources available.
As an industry, we need to have the space and investment to process waste in a way that can help meet energy demands, as well as creating completely new products for use in manufacturing and construction. More needs to be done to make use of energy from waste, eg refuse derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF) in the UK market, rather than exporting overseas. However, we are not yet in a position to make the most of this at home. Energy-from-waste infrastructure can take considerable time and significant financial investment to develop, which means the export market still remains both an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective solution.
A large volume of the waste we collect in the UK is sent on to Remondis plants, such as the Lippe plant in the German city of Lünen. In excess of 1.5m tonnes of waste is processed there each year, generating more than 770,000 tonnes of high quality products for re-use or re-sale. Of course, a 230 hectare site like this takes time to develop and it is unlikely that the same scale of facility will be operational in the UK for many years to come.
In order to be able to emulate the examples set by our European counterparts, significant efforts to educate both the industry and producers at every level need to be made. In other countries, policies and standards are in place to ensure that everyone has the knowledge and channels available to make the most of waste streams. In addition to this, policy and guidance is in place to help people reuse, repurpose and recycle. If this does not happen soon, we will not only be unable to meet our waste targets by 2020, but we’ll lose our standing within the European marketplace. That will be devastating not only to our waste industry but, potentially, to the UK economy in general.