Reverse Logistics – The Key To Driving Efficiencies In EFW

James Maiden, country manager at Geminor UK, discusses how utilising reverse logistics is helping local authorities to embrace an environmentally-friendly alternative to landfill.


If you take a moment to look around your environment – your office, your house, the train – chances are that most of what you look at is, to some extent, imported goods. Indeed, Britain is a net importer, with imports exceeding exports by £13.2 billion.*

This is not a reason to panic and doesn’t mean the UK economy is on the verge of collapse. In fact, economists fully expect Britain to be a net importer in the long-term and consider it positive for both consumers and business.

Imports promote greater choice, quality and create competition, forcing domestic producers to improve value by increasing quality and/or reducing costs.

All in all, there seem few negatives resulting from an imbalanced export market. In fact, it puts the UK in a surprisingly favourable position. However, there is one side effect that smart organisations are starting to utilise – that of return logistics.

Making The Most Of Return Transport

Whether electronic goods from Japan or fully-assembled cars from America, we rely on imports to maintain a high quality of life. These products come from all around the world, arriving – on the whole – on container ships and bulk cargo vessels at ports across the country. According to the Department for Transport (DfT), 325 million tonnes of inward goods are handled by UK ports every year (compared to 178 million of outbound goods).

But what happens to these vessels once their cargo has been offloaded? Simple maths highlights that, even if we distributed our entire export volume on return transport, there would still be a deficit of almost 150 million tonnes. In short, they go back empty (apart from water ballast to keep them stable), while combusting 225 tonnes of fuel every day.

So, how do we combat the issue? Continue to run return transport empty? Restrict import volumes into the UK? Or something different? Fortunately, the energy from waste (EFW) market may hold the key.

Eliminating Landfill, Reducing Costs & Driving Efficiencies

EFW is a process which sees residual waste (that which cannot be reused or recycled) turned into a useable form of energy. This can include electricity, heat and transport fuels, and can be done in a range of ways. Incineration is the most well-known.

Unfortunately, the process has a poor historic image in the UK. We have been highly dependent on landfill and many of the early plants simply burned waste to reduce its volume. This view is outdated.

The introduction of landfill diversion targets in the 1990s helped drive a new generation of energy from waste plants, designed to meet strict emissions standards and provide valuable low carbon energy. As landfill continues to fill up, this progress continues.

Unfortunately, the UK is still more focused on recycling via MRFs, rather than recovery via EFW. As such, our EFW capability is far behind that of our European counterparts. In short, this means that we are producing far more residual waste than our domestic EFW infrastructure can handle.

The sensible option, therefore, is to look toward exporting residual waste and utilising international facilities to generate valuable energy. Expensive, you say? Inefficient? Well, think back to our trade deficit, the number of empty ships leaving the UK and the number of accessible EFW plants beyond our borders. The pieces of the jigsaw start to come together.

Maximising Transport Efficiencies

An increasing number of UK EFW companies are looking towards the export market to maximise operational efficiencies. By working with logistics providers across the continent to utilise empty return journeys, residual waste can be distributed to state-of-the-art facilities and used to meet feedstock demand. In return, vessels receive ballast – a win-win situation.

Rather than commissioning outgoing transport, dead leg logistics (the name given to part of a shipment route where reusable cargo space is shipped empty) is leveraged to minimise costs. What’s more, by sending waste to where it’s needed most, incineration facilities can be run at full capacity – ensuring the greatest possible efficiencies and maximising energy generated.

Geminor is a leader in the EFW export market, handling more than 1.2 million tonnes of residual material every year. The company has close working relationships with Europe’s leading logistics providers, ensuring an enviable distribution network. In layman’s terms, Geminor knows, better than anyone else, where and when return journeys are taking place, and therefore how and where to move waste.

By making use of return load transport, waste is distributed to a network of more than 70 energy recovery facilities across the continent. Geminor always works to optimise transport capacity, whatever the mode, always using dead leg or return freight options to minimise its carbon footprint.

As a result, clients are provided with a stable, flexible and competitive solution to their secondary fuel offtake requirements, while empty freight is filled on its return journey. All in all, a simple, yet highly efficient use of return logistics.

Working with clients across the UK, ranging from local authorities to multinational environmental service providers, Geminor delivers an environmentally-friendly alternative to landfill disposal. Using return freight, the company ensures a highly cost effective waste management process – saving time and money, while extracting the highest possible value from residual waste.

Recently, the company opened a brand new multimodal logistics terminal at the Port of Gothenburg. Set to play a key role in the company’s ongoing expansion in Sweden, the state-of-the-art facility will be used for the importing and handling of baled RDF.

The terminal, which will handle an estimated 100,000 tonnes of waste materials every year (all of which will come from the UK), has road and rail connections for onward transfer. Bale breaking equipment and a dedicated processing team will allow all materials entering the site to be quickly and effectively separated, before being distributed to leading waste recovery facilities across the country – including Renova, Oresundskraft, Linkoping, Norrkoping and Vastervik.

Geminor demonstrates how making the most of dead leg transport can not only result in significant environmental benefits, but also improve the UK’s export logistics chain and drive economic benefit. Having a trade deficit comes with its own implications, but with innovative thinking and a smart business model, we can make the most of a considerable opportunity.

The Future

As an industry rising in popularity, EFW will continue to grow both in the UK and globally. Already, countries like Sweden are making the most of residual waste incineration – recovering 99% of their waste and generating enough electricity to supply 250,000 homes, as well as heating for 950,000 homes.

In the UK, we still have a long way to go to improve our waste infrastructure, which makes exporting residual waste the logical and cost-effective solution – for the time being, at least.

In time, we will build a strong EFW infrastructure. But, with seasonality impacting on demand for heat, there will always be a demand for the export market. The key to effective waste management is being nimble and going with demand – this drives down costs, provides feedstock to where it’s most wanted and delivers significant economic benefits.


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