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Politics As Uncertain As The Weather

November 2018

The RDF Activity Report (and the freely-available one-page RDF Export Dashboard) had a makeover this month to bring it into line with new corporate branding:

The full report, as well as the previously-available Supply Chain info, Country Summary / Market Share charts, New Suppliers, Rapidly-Growing Outlets etc, now includes “Top 25 Exporter Analysis” (whereas before it was "Top 20") and additional insight into Port of Exit and Port of Entry.

My hope is that the bright new format brings cheer where the narrative of the charts sadly doesn't. The overall RDF export market continues to falter, down by nearly 8% year-on-year. Exports to the Netherlands (44% of total exports) are down by 15%, and volumes to Germany (18% of exports) are down by 16%, so it is unsurprising that the smaller players are unable to lift the headline figure, regardless of how buoyant they may be. The latest position is starkly evident in the “Rolling 4-Year Monthly Trend” (see Whole Market chart below), where the latest dot (for September 2018) is at a level not seen since the end of 2014. It is therefore predicted, on current levels, that the year-end total tonnage will be 3 million tonnes.

All is not gloom, of course. There are some good-news stories to be found in the figures for Greece, Cyprus, Norway and Sweden. Some exporters seem not to have noticed any macro-slowdown (Probio, Bertling, Geminor and N&P to name some). SRF exports are still in positive territory, at +8%. There are possibly even indications that the decline of exports to the Netherlands is levelling out, though this is not yet guaranteed.

Two factors which will shape the future direction of the RDF export sector are (i) politics and (ii) winter. Defra has held talks with other EU countries, exploring the scenario of “No Deal” in the Brexit negotiations, and they have released a guidance document accordingly (“Maintaining The Continuity Of Waste Shipments If There’s No Brexit Deal”). This document states that, without a deal, licences issued by the UK would no longer be valid for shipments of waste to the 27 remaining EU countries. A “re-approval” process would be needed, and since one does not currently exist, Defra is contacting EU countries to discuss arrangements. Such uncertainty will discourage exploration of new markets and outlets as it will make both sides of the contract very nervous about the longevity of any signature or agreement. The Defra document re-iterates the official position that both the EU and the UK are continuing to work hard to seek a positive deal.

Slightly more certain than a breakthrough in the EU negotiations is the onset of Winter. The immediate demand caused by plunging temperatures and shivering municipalities is likely to override short-term political anxieties. So, even as we head towards March 2019, if the weather is cold, RDF consignments will still be shipped.

In many ways, the sector has performed well in spite of significant headwinds. Consider, for example, the fact that new car sales plunged by 20% in September compared to the previous year.

With politics currently as uncertain as the weather, it’s going to be an interesting few months. Hopefully, the RDF Conference in London on the 29th November will shed some light into the darkness. I look forward with eager anticipation to hearing the views expressed from the podium!