Why RDF Should Be “Coming Home”

As the England football team takes another nailbiting step on the path to potential World Cup glory, Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, ponders what he calls the “mocksport” of exporting RDF.

At the beginning of this year I braved blizzard conditions in order to pick up two Radio 4 journalists from Slough train station in order to give them a tour of our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) at Colnbrook.

It was odd conducting an interview that was to be aired in three months’ time, and my biggest fear was saying something that turned out to be the exact opposite when the programme aired.

It turned out that my fears were unfounded, we are still managing to move recyclable material, albeit at vastly reduced rates, something I mentioned at the time, and China’s doors are still open to the right kind of material.

What remains a confusion both in the eyes of the public and radio journalists is what constitutes ‘rubbish’? More importantly, the difference between exporting paper and plastics and ‘mocksporting’ RDF.

You see the first adds to GDP, and the second takes away.

Economics used to play a part in the school curriculum when I was growing up, we learnt about electric arc furnaces replacing coal-fired blast furnaces at steel works; about balance of payments; about the disparity in wealth between North and South Italy.

It was stirring stuff, it was probably done away with after someone invented PFI and banks started lending money to penniless people to buy five-bedroom houses in Florida. God forbid that a Boston banker be questioned about his lobotomised lending by his seven-year-old son or daughter.

Important To Understand

It is important that we understand these things. No matter what we think about someone like Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, we have to accept that there will be not be the ‘ambassador’s favourite’ Ferrero Rocher chocolates at Christmas, or Cadbury’s fruit and nut without him; Turkey produces most of the world’s hazelnuts.

The UK is a massive exporter of whisky, and lamb and beans, and not much else, so when we sell our waste paper to China or our glass to Spain, it is our waste industry which helps keep the country afloat.

When we ‘mocksport’ our ‘rubbish’ to the Netherlands, we buy a service that our country could perform quite happily on these shores.

To add a few figures into the mix – provisional data from the Environment Agency for January to December 2017, showed that around 3,200,788 tonnes of waste derived fuel was approved for export. This compares to around 3,194,426 the previous year.

RDF is the main constituent of the exported material, but what’s interesting here is that the amount of tonnage has barely increased over a 12 month period, partly due to Europe’s own EfW facilities reaching their capacity levels.

Of those countries which accept the most RDF, it is our old World Cup enemy Germany which receives the highest tonnage of RDF from England (641,218 tonnes); while last Saturday’s England quarter final opponents Sweden (did anyone mention 2-0?) come in second at 528,734 tonnes.

Thankfully there are no South American countries taking our RDF – or indeed left in the World Cup this year!

It would seem to make sense then, if that the overseas market is becoming somewhat flooded, this is the perfect time for the UK to invest in additional EfW infrastructure of its own.

And whether the England football team beat Croatia and go on to greater glory tomorrow night (Wednesday) or not, there is little doubt in my mind that making sure our RDF isn’t just ‘coming home’ but stays home in the first place, is the goal England’s waste industry should be aiming for.

Here’s keeping everything crossed for a glorious victory all round!


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