New infrastructure holds the key

MRW – 28 SEPTEMBER, 2019 – Dougie Sutherland

Waste is a complex issue and solving the problem requires consideration of the inherent value of waste, the impact of recycling initiatives, the need for new processing capacity and why investment in energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities should be prioritised to reduce the UK’s landfill and exports.

We must build greater recognition of the value that residual waste has as a potential energy source. Companies across the UK are ready to invest in low-emission infrastructure to extract more energy from waste and generate power.

As technologies develop, we also need a strong policy framework to allow us to significantly contribute to reducing the environmental impact of processing waste.

But investment in infrastructure alone is not enough. We also need consumer education, initiatives to make recycling easier, clearer labelling on packaging, and investment in the technology required to transform recyclables into useful products.

Policies in Defra’s resources and waste strategy are not enough. Even assuming we could take 100% of cans and bottles, for instance, out of the residual waste stream, this would reduce the amount of residual waste we process only by 700,000 tonnes. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) would divert a further 600,000 tonnes. This compares with around 27 million tonnes of waste that is processed by the sector annually.

A successful deposit return scheme (DRS) would be hugely beneficial for our environment, but it is not enough to have a material impact on the levels of residual waste that we need to process.

The sum of the things we do as individuals will also have an impact. When we recycle, we should ensure that the materials are recyclable and cleaned to reduce contamination. But there is still a gap between our non-recyclable waste and the infrastructure to deal with it.

The UK cannot keep burying and exporting waste, but independent forecasts show that we lack the alternative infrastructure to bring these practices to an end. But, if approved, Cory’s planned £500m Riverside Energy Park will allow London to divert 650,000 more tonnes of non-recyclables from landfill and export.

While we must recognise the need to reduce waste, recycle and reuse more, we must not allow this to come at the cost of confronting the gap in our treatment infrastructure.

I am confident that EfW extracts the greatest value from residual waste. We can also materially improve recycling rates with effective policy and consumer education, and address our treatment capacity problem by boosting investment in infrastructure, bringing an end finally to landfill and export.

Dougie Sutherland is chief executive of Cory Riverside Energy