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How Much RDF Is Being Landfilled?

January 2020

The Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF) export sector has encountered numerous obstacles in recent years, but news of a €31-per-tonne tax levied by the Dutch Government on RDF exports to the Netherlands has caused much indignation from companies and trade bodies in the UK and Netherlands alike. Such a fee applied to the volume of RDF heading from England to the Netherlands (in excess of 1 million tonnes) is a barrier which, for some flows, may prove insurmountable.

Certainly, Essex County Council's decision to send around 200,000 tonnes of RDF to landfill is an indicator that the Dutch Government's decision will have negative environmental consequences, a point made by the RDF Industry Group in their lobbying.

This leads to the question of 'How much RDF is being landfilled?'. Data showing the outcome of Essex Council's decision will not be visible at least until the end of this year, but, in the meantime, has there been landfilling of RDF in recent years?

Presuming RDF has been produced and categorised as EWC 19 12 10, the code specifically for 'Combustible Waste (Refuse Derived Fuel)', that it is dispatched from a permitted waste facility as such and is consequently received at a landfill site as 19 12 10, then we see on the chart below that such activity has occurred in recent years:

We observe that the volume for 2015, 2016 and 2017 was above 100,000 tonnes, but in 2018, this fell dramatically to just over 20,000 tonnes. Assuming this to be RDF that had perhaps not been economically viable to send overseas but lacked a domestic energy facility, it is plausible to suggest that an increase in Energy from Waste (EfW) capacity in the UK in the past year or two has meant that such landfilling has become less necessary.

What will happen as a result of the Dutch RDF tax? The Essex County Council news indicates that a likely consequence will be that an amount of RDF will no longer be able to go overseas on an economically-sustainable basis ... therefore it will need a domestic route. True, there is more EfW capacity in the UK, but is there enough to accommodate the potential extra material? Furthermore, irrespective of extra EfW capacity, is the additional RDF in the right geographical place for the EfW capacity to be a relevant option?

When the 2019 data appears (which should be towards the end of 2020), it will be very interesting to see if the downward trend is reversed. Bearing in mind that the volumes had been just over 100,000 tonnes, then Essex Council's decision alone to possibly send 200,000 tonnes of RDF to landfill would send the next chart bar rocketing upwards.

Where are the landfill sites that received EWC 19 12 10 (RDF) in 2018? The map below indicates a variety of sites spread across the country. The hope would surely be that RDF does not need to go to landfill ... but if it does need to go to landfill (as a short-term measure), that it does not need to add insult to environmental injury by being transported significant distances across the country:

Footprint Services is currently producing a report on landfill input trends, capacity, remaining lifespan, etc, showing county-level summaries as well as a profile of individual landfill sites.

If you are interested in finding out more about the information in this article or about the forthcoming Landfill Trends report, please send an e-mail to [email protected] - many thanks.

Footprint Services provides information on wood waste, RDF, food waste treatment and other waste streams - please get in touch for more information