More investment needed in energy from waste – expert
The amount of energy produced from waste in the UK is steadily increasing – but more investment is needed to increase capacity.
That’s the opinion of CSG Operations Manager Greg Smith, who said the UK is still lagging behind its European counterparts when it comes to energy from waste facilities.
There are more than 50 fully operational energy from waste facilities in the UK, a significant increase from 37 in 2016.
Despite this, other smaller European countries such as Sweden produce significantly more energy from waste. About 50 per cent of waste is incinerated for energy in Sweden, producing much of the winter heat required from the country’s 10 million residents.
The UK, meanwhile, continues to ship waste overseas. In 2020, 2.41 million tonnes of waste was shipped to the EU from the UK.
Greg said: “The UK is still playing catch-up. With the energy crisis as it is, energy from waste could be playing a greater role in our overall energy production, increasing energy security.
“Simply put, the majority of hazardous waste can’t be dealt with in the UK so it’s shipped into Europe.
“When people think about hazardous waste they think of toxic substances or explosives, but in reality it’s mainly common under-the-sink items like paint, glue and flammable substances. It also includes items with batteries.
“The lack of energy from waste facilities in the UK is partially down to economics. Other countries don’t have the wind power or North Sea energy so they’ve looked for other ways to create power. We didn’t feel quite the same need to explore alternative energy sources until recent years.”
Energy from waste involves taking waste and turning it into a useable form of energy. This can include electricity, heat and transport fuels. It can be in a variety of ways, but incineration is the most common.
Waste is sent for incineration at energy from waste facilities when all the possible recycling has been done. This generally means the environmental or economic costs of further separating and cleaning the waste are bigger than any potential benefit of doing so.
Greg said, as well as increasing the number of energy from waste facilities, the UK should also look at better ways to separate materials.
CSG has become the industry leader in material separation, leading to higher rates of recycling.
Greg said: “It’s becoming more and more difficult to ship waste to the EU. Since Brexit, there is much greater customs clearance required for transporting things, so companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find an outlets for their waste.
“We have been able to help companies with this while also reducing what is shipped abroad. This has been achieved, by and large, by hard manual labour to deconstruct items into recyclable parts.”
Take an electric toothbrush, for example, which is normally sold as a cardboard box, a polyester insert, a plastic cask, a plastic outer shell and electronic waste.
The plastics industry doesn’t want the waste because of the battery, and the electronics industry doesn’t want the waste because of the plastic.
CSG manually separates the materials so that they can be sold back into the relevant industry and start a new life in the circular economy.
Likewise, CSG has received a huge amount of hand gel waste in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The liquid gel is separated from the container before the packaging is recycled within the UK, whilst the gel is blended for fuel or solvent reclamation, an EfW alternative to incineration.
Used paint can also be treated by CSG to make secondary fuels.
Greg said: “Everyone wants pink fluffy waste – no one wants to do the dirty side of the job.
“Whether it’s waste from the electrical industry, construction industry or chemical industry, we separate and segment as much as feasibly possible. Intensive deconstruction and intervention is needed to divert these wastes from landfill and extract the maximum value from the waste.
“We are very responsive and proactive to ensure we are ready to deal with waste.
“And we are continually looking at new ways of separating materials so that they can be used again.
“The manufacturing sector needs to think more about how easy it is to treat their products once they’re finished with. Hand gel, for example, tends to be made from two different types of plastic which are very difficult to separate.
“We are seeing a rapid rise in confidential destruction, things like perfumes and medicines. Sometimes they’re out of date or out of spec. If these types of materials get into landfill it can be dangerous so we are called upon to dispose of them responsibly by segmenting the liquids.
“There will certainly be an even greater emphasis on recycling and waste disposal in the future. The public want it – it’s coming.”
CSG’s in-house ADR transportation network means it is well positioned to collect and transport drums, packages, bulk liquids or intermediate bulk containers nationwide.
Its waste transfer, treatment and recovery centres are positioned in strategic locations across the UK – making any nationwide collection easy.
CSG’s team of consultants work together to create innovative and cost-effective solutions, while ensuring waste is removed and treated safely and compliantly.
For more information, visit www.csg.co.uk