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Reality Gap: Biffa’s Residual Waste Treatment Capacity Study released

Recycling and waste management company Biffa assesses UK residual waste treatment needs, and concludes that market forces will lead to a natural balance of capacity.

The study, titled The Reality Gap: UK residual waste treatment capacity – making sense of the arguments, concludes that there is presently a substantial capacity gap for residual waste treatment in the UK, in the order of 15Mtpa. Biffa forecasts that this will reduce to 4.4-5.9Mtpa by 2025, but will never completely disappear.

Jeff Rhodes, Head of Environment and External Affairs, Biffa, said: “Biffa is interested in the reality of the world in which it operates and how market dynamics affect it. It is our view that some published reports to date have not really addressed this.

“At Biffa, we are not interested in political agenda and melodramatic headlines. Rather, we are taking a rational look at the future based on the company’s experience of more than 100 years operating within the UK waste management market.”

The study was completed by a team of Biffa experts, combining operational experience in every aspect of the business: collection, recycling and residual waste management, in both commercial and public sectors. By carrying out the study in-house, Biffa was able to ensure all assumptions were based on real commercial experience. Importantly, the report has also been peer reviewed by a leading independent consultancy, providing assurance in the legitimacy of the process and its findings.

“A sensible debate about future residual waste treatment capacity needs to be grounded in the realities of supply and demand,” added Mike Thair, Group Business Development Director. “In particular, any examination needs to look carefully at sub-regional capacity shortfalls, since this is the level at which the market operates.”

Biffa’s research concludes that localised shortfalls in treatment capacity will persist in the long term, since areas with relatively low residual waste arisings will not attract investment for substantial new facilities.

These geographical pockets mean that, as a whole, the UK will have a small yet persistent capacity gap. This does not imply market failure, but rather market equilibrium – the point at which the right amount of treatment capacity will exist.

Biffa’s study concludes that the UK has the means available to it manage this balance going forward, but it needs to recognise and use all the tools available to it: refuse derived fuel export, domestic energy recovery and treatment. Landfill is also an enduring part of the picture as the vital ‘safety net’ for specialised waste streams, materials rejected from recycling processes, localised treatment capacity shortfalls, and disposal of residues from treatment and energy from waste plants during operational periods and downtimes.

Together these assets provide a valuable portfolio of environmentally sound, tonnage-adaptable and cost effective solutions for UK waste producers.

Jeff Rhodes added: “What this also shows is that, like Biffa, the UK is actually well-placed going forward. By not putting all its eggs into one basket, the UK has a good range of options available to it, a healthy development pipeline for new infrastructure and the ability to respond flexibly as we make further progress towards a Circular Economy, but we need to keep all options open and available.”

The Reality Gap: UK residual waste treatment capacity – making sense of the arguments, can be downloaded here: www.biffa.co.uk/about-biffa/media-centre/publications/other-publications.html

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