According to Defra, policies laid out in the resources and waste strategy will result in all the UK’s residual waste being dealt with by 2035 through incin­eration and other methods. Not long ago, a Defra official told MRW: “Our evidence is suggesting that, when we meet future recycling targets in 2030 and 2035, recycling will leave no capac­ity gap.”

But the latest analysis of the UK’s capacity by Tolvik Consulting contra­dicts this. Its Filling the Gap report looks at the strategy in some depth, and concluded that the UK would still need to build around 20 mid-sized energy-from-waste (EfW) plants.

It is a complicated subject, prone to the vagaries of interpretation and pro­jected estimates of many datasets. These include, among others, changes in waste generation due to population and consumption patterns, Brexit, changing waste composition, recycling markets and waste crime.

At the end of it all, we have the same fundamental disagreement between industry figures and those of the Gov­ernment that has been rumbling on for many years.

Tolvik said the impact of compulsory food waste collections, harmony in household waste collections, extended producer responsibility and a deposit return scheme as proposed by Defra would reduce the existing amount of residual waste produced each year by around 3.3 million tonnes. The report said: “This is some way short of the 10 million tonnes a year reduction which is set out as a goal in the annex to the [Defra] strategy.”

Tolvik director Adrian Judge said: “We think there will be more residual waste than previously projected because we can see how much by modelling the strategy.” For the first time, Tolvik mod­elled the impact of bulky waste, outages on EfW capacity and geographical remoteness from EfW sites – which it collectively termed BOG – all material that must be landfilled.

“Just 10% of the UK’s capacity gap is located in northern England but it accounts for 37% of EfW capacity under development.”

Judge said: “If you take the increased tonnage of residual waste and the effect of BOG, you get to a seven million tonnes a year shortfall in EfW capacity.”

Tolvik found there was 16.2 million tonnes of potential EfW capacity at var­ious stages of the planning process, from proposal to construction. But it estimated that only 3-3.5 million tonnes of capacity could be built in the next few years, and at least half of the remainder “will never be built because it is too unrealistic in location or scale, so we will inevitably still need landfill capacity for a long time”.

The report also said there would be sharply increased transportation of residual waste around the country because the location of existing and pro­posed EfW plants was biased towards northern England while most of the waste was in the south.

It said: “While 30% of the UK’s capacity gap is in southern England, only 15% of EfW development projects are located [there]. On the other hand, just 10% of UK capacity gap is located in northern England but it accounts for 37% of EfW capacity under development.”

If left unchanged, this imbalance would lead to “a near doubling in the bulk haulage requirement for residual waste by 2025”, Tolvik concluded.

But where will investment for new EfW come from if the consultancy’s fig­ures are right? There is currently no political will to put public money into the technology, partly in reaction to public concern over incineration and partly because of the failure of Public Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes.

The collapse of Interserve, the group of support services and construction companies, with £480m of debt was in part blamed on its troubles building EfW facilities in Glasgow and Derby­shire. EY, Interserve’s administrator, said: “The company has been suffering from much-publicised issues from losses on certain legacy construction contracts, in particular in the EfW sector.”

PFI funding is now at an end, and chancellor Philip Hammond has launched a review into replacing it with a different method of getting private money to back infrastructure projects.

If the demand for residual waste treatment outlined in Tolvik’s report is really there, private equity may get more involved in the sector. There seems to be increasing interest already: in Novem­ber last year, investment firms Equitix and Iona Capital teamed up to back a £72m EfW in Somerset, to be operated and maintained by Pinnacle Power.

There have been other models put forward to fund EfW, including using blockchain technology.

GoGen has raised £3m so far by crowdfunding for a gasification plant. The Community R4C group opposed to the Javelin Park EfW project in Gloucestershire has launched a crowd­funding campaign to take up the legal battle and has already raised £10,000 of its £30,000 target.

New money, but old arguments.

residual waste

Source: Tolvik Consulting

Analysis excludes any EfW projects currently in development, irrespective of how imminent the planned financial close. ‘Total capacity’ includes EfW that is certain to be online, mechanical and biological treatment, co-incineration and estimated amount of material that will still need to be sent to landfill.