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The UK waste industry is not only an essential service but it’s a key part of the country’s economy, helping to reduce waste, provide sanitation and protect the environment we live in. There are other benefits to waste though that aren’t truly embraced by modern society. Waste, by virtue of its name is seen as a burden that’s only got a price tag attached for its own disposal. But with Energy from Waste plants efficiently burning everything that can’t be recycled, is the waste economy not quite computing?

Energy from waste (EFW) plants have emerged as an increasingly popular alternative to traditional landfill sites in recent years. However, EFW plants are facing a significant challenge: when they can’t get enough waste for fuel, they miss revenue targets derived from selling energy back to the grid.

EFW plants convert mostly non-recyclable waste into electricity or heat, generating renewable energy that can be sold back to the grid. In 2020, the UK generated 10.1 TWh of electricity from waste, equivalent to around 2.8% of total electricity generated in the country. However, EFW plants are engaged in a dog-fight for waste, which means that they must compete with other waste management facilities, or even landfill, for the limited amount raw waste that’s available.

One of the main reasons why waste is in short supply is that it is not always seen as a valuable resource. In fact, waste should be seen as the ‘fourth utility’ after water, gas, and electricity. The energy that can be generated from waste has the potential to reduce landfill reliance, lower energy bills, and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign energy supplies.

So why is the value of waste not being realised? There are a few reasons. First, many businesses still see waste as a problem, rather than an opportunity. This means that they do not invest in effective waste management processes or consider the potential energy that could be generated from their waste.

Contaminated waste can be incorrectly sent to landfill, voiding any potential energy recapture and increasing the burden on the environment. Second, there is a lack of education around waste management and the benefits of EFW plants. This means that businesses are not aware of the value of their waste or how to manage it effectively.

Despite the fact that energy from waste (EFW) plants burn waste to produce and sell electricity, it is still expensive to dispose of waste. It’s this equation that doesn’t quite add up. Waste has a value, but there’s a disconnect somewhere along the line. Sure, a factor for this is that EFW plants require significant investment to build and maintain. The construction and operation of EFW plants require complex technology and expensive equipment, which must be regularly serviced and updated. Additionally, EFW plants must comply with strict environmental regulations, which require significant resources and expertise to meet. Moreover, the cost of transporting waste to EFW plants can also be expensive, particularly if the waste must be transported over long distances. But at a time when energy prices are at an all-time high, the question could be asked that surely this would be a lucrative business given the current climate?

Waste has a value, but while it’s yet to be fully realised there’s a disconnect with the value on one end and the view of it as a burden on the other. A healthy waste economy, where waste is seen as the fourth utility is achievable. Cities would be cleaner, landfills volume would be reduced, waste disposal costs would be driven down.

While there’s a way to go there might just be a healthy and efficient waste economy on the horizon.

GPT Waste offers an industry-leading, transparent and technology-backed offering to the UK waste sector. We can offer strategic reviews of your waste management requirements in order to identify environmentally and cost benefits. Our approach has made us the UK’s leading independent waste management company. To speak to our expert team about your waste management requirements, call 0844 854 5000.