Resource Use

UK heading for residual waste treatment overcapacity

The UK will reach residual waste treatment infrastructure ‘overcapacity’ in the next four years, even if no new facilities reach financial close, waste consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting has found.

According to Eunomia’s sixth ‘Residual Waste Infrastructure Review’, the UK is building residual waste treatment facilities – such as incinerators, gasifiers, mechanical biological treatment and biomass facilities – at such a rate that by 2018/19 the UK will see a 0.5 million tonne per annum (tpa) shortfall in the amount of waste needed to feed them, even if no further facilities reach financial close.

Indeed, it states that when the facilities currently under construction come online in 2017, the UK would have seen total treatment capacity grow by more than 130 per cent since 2009 (from 7 million tpa to 17 million tpa).

Report details

Image taken from the sixth ‘Residual Waste Infrastructure Review

The report highlights that although there was a ‘capacity gap’ (more waste arisings than infrastructure to treat it) of around 6.5 million tpa in 2012/13 (based on capacity of facilities either operating or under construction), the capacity gap between residual waste arisings and available treatment capacity will fall over time.

Specifically, it states that without any change in residual waste quantities, there would actually be overcapacity of 14.3 million tpa if the 20.8 million tpa of waste treatment capacity that has planning consent reaches financial close and subsequent operation.

However, this forecast does not include potential future capacity, which has not yet entered the planning system. If future capacity were brought into the scenario, this figure would rise to 22.6 million tonnes in 2020/21 (although local overcapacity may occur faster in different geographical areas due to limitation such as the the ability to carry waste over great distances at low cost).

Eunomia states, however, that it seems ‘unlikely that the UK would ever reach such a level of overcapacity, as each time a ‘merchant’ facility begins construction in a given locale, the likelihood of nearby merchant facilities reaching financial close falls’.

The report adds: ‘At the same time, the lead-times involved in the development process, and the level of inertia in the system associated with this, imply that the pace at which the system responds to the emergence of over-capacity is unlikely to be rapid.’

Operators cannot ignore the interactions between supply and demand’

Adam Baddeley, the report’s lead author said: “This latest review demonstrates the speed at which residual treatment capacity continues to grow. In those regions where overcapacity is already becoming an issue, we would expect to see operators charging low gate fees at their facilities to attract waste from further afield. Operators cannot ignore the interactions between supply and demand.”

The report draws upon data from local authorities’ annual WasteDataFlow returns, Defra’s latest C&I data and Eunomia’s in-house Facilities Database, which holds information on all residual treatment facilities in the UK (both operating and under development).

Read Eunomia’s ‘Residual Waste Infrastructure Review’.