UK ETS and EfW: We have to be honest about what works


Neil Grundon, Chairman of Grundon Waste Management, says investment decisions taken today will come home to roost when the UK ETS comes into force. He believes long-term thinking and a hefty dose of transparency are required along the way.

Come 2028, emissions from Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities will be included in the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). 

For the first time, waste will have a “carbon” price attached per tonne – quite how much that will be, we have yet to find out – but one thing we can be sure of is that organisations who fail to prepare could be in for a short, sharp shock.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has already called this “the most significant regulatory intervention to the UK waste industry in a generation”.

The whole point of the ETS is to incentivise emissions cuts and encourage investment in less polluting technologies in line with the UK’s 2050 net zero commitment. I’d like to think that, with new Environment Secretary Steve Barclay, we have someone with an eye for detail who will help drive this legislation forward.

Speaking of positives, at least we now have clarity around the Simpler Recycling reforms, and for that, we should be grateful. The ETS legislation will undoubtedly impact every part of our sector, from waste producers to consumers and waste management experts like ourselves.

Investing in new ideas now will inevitably throw up a few twists and turns in the road.

That’s why I believe any organisation – private or public sector – with investment decisions to make, must take into account the likely impact on their bottom line in four years. While none of us have a crystal ball, tomorrow’s technology will be vastly different to that of today’s.

Investing in new ideas now will inevitably throw up a few twists and turns in the road and I think we need to be transparent about what doesn’t work, as well as what does. One great example of this is Lego.

The family-owned Danish company has been exploring ways to manufacture its famous bricks from recycled drinks bottles instead of oil-based plastic but announced recently that such a move would have increased carbon emissions over the product’s lifetime.

Instead, it has committed to incorporating more bio-based and recycled material into existing manufacturing methods – tackling the same issue from a different direction. I applaud them for their honesty and determination to innovate in other ways. No one said the path to cutting carbon emissions was going to be easy.

Grundon says electric vehicles are not the solution for every single collection route right now.

Closer to home, at Grundon, we have already cut carbon emissions by almost 80% through a wide cross-section of sustainability measures. We’ve also recognised the huge opportunities in carbon capture technology, hence our investment in carbon capture specialist O.C.O Technology.

However, we also admit that the journey towards net zero isn’t always as straightforward as we might like. One of our biggest success stories recently has been this year’s £5 million investment in our vehicle fleet, including the launch of our first new electric waste collection vehicles.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are great, especially when, as happens at our Colnbrook operation, the vehicle is powered by electricity generated from the waste it deposits at the end of its collection round. A fine example of the circular economy in action.

We have to recognise though that right now EVs are not the solution for every single collection route. That is due to a combination of factors, including vehicle size, available infrastructure and route planning. It doesn’t mean we’re putting the brake on this technology – far from it. Next year alone, we will increase our vehicle fleet budget by around 30%, investing both in more EVs and other alternative fuels.

Like Lego, as a family-owned, independent company, we have the flexibility and agility to make smart decisions, learn from our experiences and stay ahead of the curve. Let us all use ETS as a driver for innovation.

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