By Jeff Cooper, president of the International Solid Waste Association
The 7th ISWA Beacon Conference Waste-to-Energy: ‘State of the Art and Latest News’ was held in Malmo at the end of 2011 attracting 160 participants from 16 countries. The ISWA national member, Avfall Sverige co-hosted the Beacon Conference.
The first session of the conference was devoted to waste policy issues with Marta Gurin, the Technical and Scientific Officer for CEWEP (Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants) which is based in Brussels talking about the leading issues current in the EU. These included the end-of-waste criteria for refused derived fuel, which if it follows the pattern which has been set already for IBA to be classified as a secondary aggregate, will end in failure.
Several countries would like rdf to cease to be classified as waste. However, unless it is burned in specialised facilities it could be a hazard to both people’s health and the environment. It appears that rdf/srf has already failed to fulfil the criteria for end-of-waste status through the Commission’s commitology procedures. While the Commission is considering a number of highly technical issues such as the revision of the BREF for incineration and co-incineration plants there is the high level Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe published on 20 September 2011 setting out how improvements in resource efficiency will be made in the next decade.
This will include improving the effectiveness of energy recovery from residual waste but the amounts of non-recyclable and non-compostable waste should also decline over time as methods of resource recovery higher up the hierarchy will take greater precedence. In response to a question about the priorities of the members of the European Parliament Marta Gurin responded that it was recycling and illegal waste shipments that were their main focus.
Already in a number of countries we see that there is an over-capacity of incineration facilities or at least the acceptance of spot-market combustible wastes at marginal prices. There were two presentations examining this and related aspects.
Exports of Combustible Waste
Barbel Birnstengel of Prognos AG and Natalie Cording from Tolvik Consulting took a 2020 analysis of the treatment capacity and cross-boundary waste flows in Europe. Barbel Birnstegel noted that recent spot prices for incineration for northern European countries were currently: € Norway 30-50 Sweden 10-30 Denmark 55-90 The Netherlands 40-50 Germany 45-70+ She explained that the market for processed waste had started in 2007, also that the current cross-boundary movements were very limited but its potential growth through the rest of this decade was considerable. There were two main conflicting trends affecting the market: one was the difficulty of establishing new energy recovery or even waste treatment facilities in several countries but also that there were several countries with surplus capacity which was unlikely to be utilised by the national demand for treating residual waste.
The waste relationship between Germany and Poland was interesting, with waste wood going from Poland to Germany for Germany’s bio-waste plants but 200,000 tonnes of treated residual waste in early 2011 was being sent from Germany to Poland for their cement kilns and a further 300,000 tonnes to other facilities.
Natalie Cording focused on the UK situation where the 2% decline in the amounts of MSW each year generated over the past 5 years she felt was unlikely to continue into the future. While treatment capacity for residual waste was increasing, especially through the development of mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) plants, it was unlikely that there would be adequate energy recovery plants to take the combustible product. Therefore the pattern of export of this rdf from the UK to other countries was likely to intensify from the low levels that are currently experienced.
Figures from the Environment Agency for England and Wales showed applications for export of over 1 million tonnes of rdf/srf between September 2010 and September 2011. However, only 70,000 tonnes had been dispatched: to The Netherlands for incineration, to Germany and Estonia. In the latter case Shanks East London Eco-deco plant has sent processed waste as fuel in a cement kiln. This trade is only possible through the high level of landfill tax for waste in the UK that means that the processed waste can be exported with a considerable dowry for cement kilns or even incinerators with surplus capacity would be willing to accept.
Natalie Cording mentioned the potential large increase that could be experienced in exports of combustible waste from the UK. She also warned that if these exports began to increase dramatically in the future there would be the important national policy implication of “losing the closed loop potential” of utilising this waste within the UK.
Atle Maroen, MD of Rekom AS examined the waste market from a waste broker’s perspective subtitled why are the Norwegians shipping waste to Sweden? He explained that the Rekom company was set up in 1998 by 250 local authority waste companies and municipalities in Norway in response to move away from landfill towards recycling but recognising that there were few skills that local authorities had in marketing these new commodities. Rekom was now also undertaking trading operations as well.
In terms of the amounts of reclaimed waste handled, or more usually brokered, by Rekom is not surprisingly cardboard but growing rapidly as a commodity was burnable residual waste with 160,000 tonnes in 2009 and 300,000 tonnes in 2010. It is often cheaper for municipalities in Norway to send their residual waste to be burned in Swedish incinerators than to be processed in Norway’s own facilities. Indeed, even the politicians have accepted the economic realities of the situation with the Norwegian Environment Minister in 2010 stating that “treating Norwegian waste is often a Swedish solution”.
The cost of operating Norway’s incineration plants is higher than for those in Sweden for several reasons: higher capital and operating costs as the plants are on average smaller than their Swedish neighbours, have higher transport costs and beneficial back-haul rates because the main transport flows are from Sweden to Norway, especially for agricultural products from southern Sweden. However, it is surprising that there have not been the kind of objections experienced a decade ago in the USA with east Coast waste being back-hauled in bulkers that then took food from the Mid-west to east Coast cities.