Defra updates RDF definition

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has developed an updated definition for refuse-derived fuel (RDF) that clarifies what is expected of waste described as RDF.

The new definition follows a process that began in March 2014, when Defra issued a call for evidence into the market challenges faced by the RDF sector. It then announced  in December last year that it would introduce an RDF treatment standard to address concerns from within the industry regarding RDF production processes, the improper or illegal storage and stockpiling of RDF, and the lack of strict legal enforcement on behalf of government authorities.

Defra stated that the introduction of a clearer definition alongside a regulatory treatment standard would help ‘provide clarity’ within the industry and ensure that the waste hierarchy is properly followed.

The new definition, released by Defra on Friday (20 November), reads: ‘Refuse derived fuel (RDF) consists of residual waste that is subject to a contract with an end-user for use as a fuel in an energy from waste facility. The contract must include the end-user’s technical specifications relating as a minimum to the calorific value, the moisture content, the form and quantity of the RDF.’

The definition has been composed to ensure that any waste described as RDF is legitimate and has a definite end-user. This will help address cases where waste is described as RDF but has been abandoned or is causing environmental problems, such as leaching, after being stockpiled for long periods. Defra says it has been configured so that legitimate businesses in the RDF sector are unaffected.

The definition will be given a six-month trial within the industry to ensure that it is as effective as possible before it is introduced on a permanent basis.

This trial will begin early next year and regulators and operators involved with the RDF sector will be asked to help evaluate how effective the definition has been at meeting its objectives, how easy it has been to work with and whether it has resulted in any additional costs or burdens to legitimate operators.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are committed to protecting our environment and getting the most out of our waste. The new definition for refuse-derived fuel will help reduce the long-term stockpiling and abandoning of waste and the environmental risks this can cause.”

RDF consultation

Defra reports that the main concerns among respondents to the department’s call for evidence on the RDF market in England included ‘illegal or unscrupulous’ activity undermining the reputation of the sector and the environmental problems caused by mismanagement of RDF.

Defra and the Environment Agency have subsequently stated that they are undertaking a combination of actions on waste crime that will address the majority of these concerns.

However, the treatment standard suggested by Defra in the consultation received ‘very little support’ from respondents. The proposed standard included requirements regarding the shredding process and the removal of recyclable materials.

Respondents said that such a measure would duplicate separate collection requirements that came into force in January this year and would be too complex to capture all the processes by which waste could be treated to produce RDF in a single standard.

Defra also conceded that introducing such a standard would ‘run counter to [its] work to cut red tape for the industry’.

RDF export

The amount of RDF being exported to mainland Europe has risen rapidly over the past five years. In 2014, exports totalled 2.6 million tonnes, compared to just 0.1 million tonnes in 2010.

A report released in September by the RDF Export Industry Group claimed that there would be virtually no environmental benefit to domestically processing the RDF currently being exported from the UK.

Defra issued a call for evidence following the sharp rise in exports, but the group’s report claimed that if the RDF currently exported was instead treated domestically, it would only contribute around 0.5 per cent of total UK electricity generation and around 0.8 per cent to total UK renewable electricity generation.

Read more about the government’s RDF consultation.

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