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CEWEP Thermal Treatment Trends 2001-16

January 2019

Each year, CEWEP (Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants) publishes a map of Energy from Waste (“EfW”) plants in Europe, based on data coming from CEWEP members and national sources.

This overview shows that EfW treatment capacity was overall stable with only the United Kingdom and Poland showing a significant increase in capacity (Poland rose to 0.5 million tonne capacity in 2016, up from 0.04 million tonnes in 2015). The chart below shows the UK alongside the top 5 countries who receive Refuse-Derived Fuel (“RDF”) from the UK.

There are surely implications for the export of RDF from the UK. In the past year, 3 million tonnes of RDF was exported from England to overseas destinations, a drop of 8% compared to the preceding 12 months. A rise in domestic UK EfW capacity (growing by approximately 1.5 million tonnes between 2015 and 2016) logically suggests that there will be less available for export overseas. That may indeed be the case, and the overall decline in RDF exports would seem to support this assertion. Furthermore, there is a strong environmental argument for keeping waste in the UK, dealing with our own residual waste and generating heat, electricity and employment. Two things should be considered though before forecasting the end of RDF exports;

i) The additional waste consumed by the UK facilities is not necessarily the same processed material that would qualify for RDF export. For waste to be exported as RDF, it needs to meet a minimum specification and be classified as EWC 19 12 10. According to Incinerator Waste Returns data, in 2017, nearly 7 million tonnes of EWC 20 03 01 (Mixed Municipal Waste) was incinerated in England, and just over 2 million tonnes of EWC 19 12 12 (Other wastes from mechanical treatment). Further, there are still large volumes of 20 03 01 and 19 12 12 going to landfill, sufficient tonnage to feed the domestic EfW capacity without yet cannibalising the exported RDF.

ii) The EfW facilities overseas are typically integrated into district heat networks, thus utilising the full Combined Heat & Power (CHP) potential of the recovered energy in partnership with local industrial use or municipalities. This is less common in the UK, in part due to the public unease of having an EfW facility in the vicinity of urban areas. Consequently, the overseas facilities typically present an economic Gate Fee advantage compared to their UK counterparts

Utimately, the continued expansion of the indigenous EfW capacity answers a perceived need to deal with our own municipal and industrial residual waste (assuming the prior recovery of recyclates). Nonetheless, the economic argument is as pertinent as the environmental, where 'local' does not necessarily equate with 'cheaper'. It is perfectly plausible that the UK could develop the capacity to treat every single tonne of our own residual unrecyclable waste and for there still to be an RDF export market simply because the economics allow it.

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