Eunomia’s Seventh Residual Waste Infrastructure Review, out today, shows that the UK has more incineration capacity either currently operational or being built than is needed if the country is to hit the 70% recycling target being discussed by the European Commission.
If these facilities, which are collectively capable of processing 17.7 million tpa of residual waste, are fully utilised the UK’s maximum recycling rate in 2030 will be limited to 66%.
Additionally, facilities with capacity to treat a further 14m tpa residual waste have planning consent. Whilst it is unlikely that all of this capacity will be built, it is very likely that some will, further impacting the maximum possible recycling rate.
The report’s findings indicate that if infrastructure construction and waste exports both proceed as expected, the UK’s residual waste treatment capacity will exceed supply in 2017/18. If export of residual waste is stopped altogether, and no further capacity is built other than that which is already in construction, overcapacity will be reached in 2023/24. In both cases it is assumed that the UK makes steady progress towards current and prospective statutory targets for recycling.
Adam Baddeley, the report’s lead author said:
“It is important that when investing in major infrastructure we think for the long term. We have already seen a number of northern European countries reach a position where they have more incineration capacity than residual waste. The UK is at risk of joining their ranks. Instead of committing further resources to expensive residual waste treatment, we should be looking at how to derive greater value from our waste through recycling. There are clearly investment opportunities in the waste sector, but it no longer seems wise to commit to more incineration that may not be needed for all of its working life.”
The report focuses entirely on waste which is suitable for treatment by residual treatment plant, e.g. incinerators, mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) facilities, and gasifiers, but excludes C&D and other unsuitable wastes which have been included in some other estimates of national capacity requirements.