September 2015

RDF Export Industry Group Report Published

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The RDF Export Industry Group has today launched a report examining the legal, environmental and economic rationales for RDF export.

The considerable rise in exports, and Defra’s response (on 1st December 2014) to its Call for Evidence on the RDF export market in England, prompted the initiation of the RDF Group, which benefits from Members including a number of major waste management contractors and operators both from the UK and across Europe.

The RDF Group welcomes Defra’s desire to work with industry, and the purpose of the report, developed by Eunomia Research & Consulting on behalf of the Group, is to present the opportunities and issues around RDF export, including consideration of the legal, environmental, and economic case for (and against) RDF export.

The evidence strongly suggests that the existing legal framework does not provide for any sensible means of Government intervention to set a restrictive standard for exported RDF. Any standard that was applied would need to apply equally to residual waste treated domestically.

The study examines the environmental impacts of RDF export, as well as the potential impact on domestic renewable energy generation. The study found that RDF export is currently unlikely to result in any net increase in CO2 emissions from residual waste treatment. Furthermore, if the 2.6 million tonnes of RDF that is currently exported was processed domestically it would contribute just 0.8% to total UK renewable electricity generation.

There are both costs and benefits in terms of the economic impacts of RDF export. Whilst there are losses from the UK economy in terms of gate fee revenue (largely for landfill operators at present), export provides a lower cost outlet for both businesses and local authorities. Although some UK jobs may be lost due to RDF export there are alternative employment opportunities created in waste collection and transfer, and at portside for the handling of RDF from delivery to loading of ships.

The Group also makes a series of recommendations for using existing powers, and new measures to tackle illegal activities that are often mistakenly suggested to be associated with the RDF export market. The report highlights that cases of abandoned waste are a matter of domestic non-compliance and enforcement, and should be regulated as such.

Mike Brown, Managing Director of Eunomia – the Secretariat to the RDF Export Industry Group – said:

“This evidence-based report should help to progress the debate on RDF exports away from some of the misconceptions about it being key to waste being abandoned in the UK, or that this is where we should focus (rather than at source) in order to move waste up the hierarchy, or even that it causes the loss of a significant amount of fuel that otherwise would be available domestically.

What’s really at stake here is that there has been a modest but sizeable shift in the UK waste sector as a result of the Landfill Tax Escalator making export affordable.”