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According to data published by the Environment Agency, the tonnage of refuse derived fuel (RDF) exported from England and Wales to Europe for incineration grew by more than 750,000 tonnes in 2014.

 The Environment Agency published the final data up to the end of December 2014 in February. It shows that the overall tonnage of RDF sent overseas throughout the year topped 2,373,611 tonnes.

The figures confirm the rapid growth in demand for RDF from operators in the UK from European energy from waste facilities, with 2014 continuing the trend of increasing exports to facilities overseas.

RDF is a fuel produced by shredding and dehydrating solid waste, which companies wishing to export are required to notify the Environment Agency of its final destination, to ensure it does not end up in landfill.

The 2014 figures show that RDF exports grew by more than 780,000 tonnes in 2014 compared to 2013, when 1.58 million tonnes of refuse derived fuel were exported). This is significantly higher than the 892,900 tonnes recorded as exported during 2012 and just 272,000 tonnes during 2011.

Twelve European countries received RDF from the England and Wales. These countries included: Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, France, Belgium, Finland, Poland and Sweden.

If you look at the graph below you will notice that the Netherlands continues to take up the majority demand for material, with a told of 1.2 million tonnes being exported to it facilities in 2014. However, Germany and Sweden has continued to grow and these two nations now make up a greater proportion of the export market from the UK.

RDF Exports

In 2014 the agency also saw SITA UK knocked off the top spot as the largest exporter of RDF to the continent, having been replaced by Biffa. The two firms sent a combined total of more than 632,000 tonnes overseas throughout the year, Biffa having topped the chart with a total of 334,510 tonnes, followed by SITA on 298,223 tonnes.

Other firms exporting large amounts of RDF to Europe include Hertfordshire-based Andusia Recovered Fuels, FCC, Seneca and New Earth Solutions.

Waste Producers from the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) sector have for many years relied upon waste collection organisations and operators of Materials Recycling Facilities (MRF’s) to effectively transport and process their “general mixed waste” (GMW) and extract the recyclable material from the non-recyclable material. However…..are the days of C & I “Dirty” MRF’s numbered?

Tony Baker, Compliance and Safety Manager at GPT Waste, reports:

A Dirty MRF effectively receives C & I non-recyclable, organic and recyclable waste and employs a range of mechanical and manual methods to recover the materials that can be considered a resource.

In recent times a number of factors have contributed to challenge the commercial effectiveness of a MRF’s ability to recover value from its activities:-

  • Legislation introduced in October 2014 in the form of an Approved Code of Practice for qualifying MRF’s to sample and compositionally test incoming and outgoing materials, has meant additional operational costs and reporting burden. Incidentally it is reported that compliance with this statutory obligation amongst qualifying MRF’s is poor!
  • The falling value of recyclable materials continues to put pressure on the cost of recovering the materials versus the value received for the effort of sorting and segregating. The slow down / stricter quality control regime of Chinese imports from the UK waste sector and the falling oil price are just two of the factors contributing to a depressed recyclables market.
  • The Growth of the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) export market – The rapid rise of the production and export of RDF from non-recyclable residual waste material is now an attractive proposition for both C&I waste producers and processors of GMW. Previously landfilled non-recyclable waste is now used as RDF in Energy from Waste (EfW) Facilities, predominantly in Germany, Netherlands and the Baltics. The Waste Producers can move their waste up the hierarchy! And the MRF’s can avoid ever increasing landfill costs. EfW gate fees track “just” below UK landfill gate fees thus encouraging the RDF method of treatment.

He went onto say:

Regarding the last point  put forward, is there a temptation for the MRF’s to treat all GMW they receive as potential for RDF, and not even bother to extract the recyclables?

Tony suspects, without clear compositional and quality standards for RDF and effective waste legislation enforcement of the so called “TEEP” regulations, then more and more recyclable material will find its way into the RDF product. There will certainly be a demand if forecasts of over capacity of RDF EfW facilities prove to be true. Gate Fees will fall, and shifting the nations waste as a source of fuel could prove more to be more economically beneficial than extracting less than top quality and potentially contaminated recyclable material.

C & I waste producers need to take a good look at the waste streams they produce and consider their own on site waste management in terms of segregation at the source of arising and the presentation of individual recyclable materials to their waste collector.

After all, we all sign off Waste Transfer Notes declaring that we have considered our obligations of the Waste Hierarchy and managed our waste accordingly.

Many of GPT’s Waste Service Providers and Processors are either manufacturing an RDF product themselves, or sending the non-recyclable residual element from their MRF’s to a specialist producer of RDF. Great news as this avoids the landfill option and moves residual waste from disposal to the recovery category of the hierarchy.

Tony said:

“Let’s make sure all stored and collected “GMW” IS residual NON recyclable material. Relying on a local “Dirty” MRF to extract recyclable material from the waste you produce may just become a thing of the past.”

Tony Baker, concluded by saying:

 “RDF product quality is currently specified by the overseas recovery facilities. Keeping recyclable material out of RDF will be a challenge! Factors such as a depressed recyclate commodity market, recent initiatives and legislation to improve quality of recyclate, and the associated processing/extraction and presentation costs may ultimately lead to higher proportions of recyclable material finding its way into the RDF product, therefore,  adversely affecting the aim of the waste hierarchy principle.”


Let’s Recycle

Environment Agency