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Understanding the UK RDF Market

The practice of producing RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) and SRF (Solid Recovered Fuels) and exporting it to energy from waste facilities elsewhere in the European Union is becoming a more commonplace method of managing residual waste. It provides an important outlet for waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill and instead is used to produce energy, usually in the form of both electricity and heat.

Under the Landfill Directive, the UK and other EU member states have been set a target to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste that is sent to landfill to at least 35% of that produced in 1995 by the year 2020.

In order to achieve this target, waste disposal authorities are having to come up with resourceful ways of managing waste and moving it up the waste hierarchy. One of the ways this is being implemented is in the pre-treatment of waste followed by thermal treatment of residues in Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities.

The UK currently has a substantial under-capacity for processing residual waste and/or RDF/SRF generated from household, commercial and industrial sources, so the export of RDF/SRF helps meet the infrastructure gap.

In the long term and if managed well, export of RDF/SRF may help to reduce the potential risk of overcapacity in the UK as is currently the case in mainland Europe.

In response to the increasing UK demand, EU gate fees have increased slightly, but they are still significantly lower than the combined gate fees and landfill tax levied in the UK in a bid to combat the overcapacity in Europe.

This overcapacity in Europe benefits the UK because there is ‘competition’ for UK waste, as evidenced by the competitive gate fees offered for RDF from the UK in Europe.

The Government is keen to ensure that the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) market delivers clear environmental benefits in terms of waste management and fully respects the principles of the waste hierarchy and of free trade.

Guy Cherry, Managing Director of GPT Waste, said:

“The growing popularity of this waste management option is demonstrated by the rapid increase in exports of RDF and SRF from virtually nil before 2010 to an expected 3.3 million tonnes in 2015. In relation to this particular disposal medium and the part it can and will play over subsequent years, its clearly going to have a major impact as we are already seeing, but hopefully not to the detriment of recycling and reuse and the great businesses that influence this; this must continue where possible and feasible.”

Exporting RDF for energy recovery complies with global market principles and, for most materials, is environmentally preferential to disposing of the waste in landfill, especially where the facilities use both the heat and electricity produced.

The data for England reportedly shows that the Netherlands received the largest quantity of waste (1.3 million tonnes), thereby retaining its market lead from the previous year. Meanwhile, England’s second largest RDF recipient was Germany at 700,000 tonnes (up by 200,000 from 2014), followed by Sweden on 410,000 tonnes.

The RDF market offers great value to UK exporters in that the cost of managing waste is considerably lower than disposal to landfill which in itself is environmentally unfavourable.


Let’s Recycle

Refuse derived fuel market in England Defra response to the call for evidence December 2014

Understanding The RDF Market in 2015