Unlocking the value of waste to help save money & the planet

Unlocking the Value of Waste Can Help Save Money and the Planet

Unlocking the value of waste to help save money & the planet

20/04/2022 | Sara Bean, editor, FMJ | An article written exclusively for Facilities Show by FMJ


Waste management is a crucial yet often under-utilised way to boost a business’s green credentials. Now, with the Government’sannouncement it plans to halve the amount of residual waste sent to landfill or incineration by 2042 – the nation’s waste habits have come clearly into focus and FMs need to act.

One way to invest in the circular economy and reduce waste disposal costs and carbon emissions is by unlocking the value of the waste an organisation creates. Beyond recycling, waste typically ends up in landfill or incineration.

Conventional mass burn Energy from Waste (EfW) costs are set to spike and the anti-incineration movement is gaining voice – calling in particular for a moratorium on new build plants. As such, FMs require urgent education about the greener and more cost-efficient alternatives to EfW and, why they should insist on moving waste further up the thermal value chain.

EfW plants are excellent at combusting unprocessed or crude waste from households and the I&C sector but, unlike mainland Europe, most UK plants are not connected to a heat offtake. This means a significant proportion of the heat they generate is not harnessed. It’s simply lost into the atmosphere; it is lost potential and unnecessary CO2.

One alternative is to convert the waste into Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) – a higher quality fuel that can be used in combustion but also within industrial processes, such as cement kilns for the production of a greener cement. SRF is a fuel produced by refining waste including shredding and dehydrating solid waste and it offers a way to recover
a significant proportion of ordinary household and industrial rubbish.

The materials used to produce SRF pass through a series of shredders, screens, density separators, and magnets. Materials such as
debris, recyclable plastics, and metals are extracted from the shredded material, leaving a mix of mainly non-recyclable paper, cards, wood, textiles, and plastic. Although a small proportion of these materials can be recycled, the quality of these materials is compromised once they enter the residual
waste stream. Therefore, recovering energy from these materials is currently the best environmental option for this waste.

Biotechnology has real value here and can be used as part of our process to create SRF by drying and degrading the organic fraction of mixed residual waste (MRW). The resulting floc is a consistent, homogenous, and high-quality material that can go on to replace carbon-emitting coal to power a cement kiln, in pyrolysis to mine it for useful chemicals or for gasification. In giving waste greater value through this
process, the circular economy benefits. It reduces waste, recovers resources, and uses them for greater endeavour. 

For businesses and waste producers, there’s a compelling financial benefit to moving waste up the thermal value chain in this way. The current (Dec 2021) cost to send waste to conventional mass burn EfW is approximately £130 to £150 per tonne, whereas sending it for either blending with other materials or for direct use as an SRF, reduces it by 40%. As all businesses brace for increasing costs, significant financial savings should be a powerful driver of change to waste management practices.

The nation’s collective reliance on EfW is almost certainly due to habit, and because there is a lack of transparency, autonomy, and information surrounding waste. However, as the impetus for environmental change increases, waste creators must embrace other methods, stop viewing landfill, incineration, and recycling as the holy trinity of options, and demand different solutions from their waste handlers. To do this, FMs almost certainly need greater education about waste, its potential as a resource, and the greener and more innovative ways it can be processed. This is particularly pressing if fiscal measures – such as the carbon-based incineration tax suggested by Resource Management Association Scotland – were to be introduced.

Faced with rising energy costs, increasing waste disposal costs, the 55% price hike to red diesel, a significant reduction in waste export abroad, the war in Ukraine, and mounting government pressure – we have to do things differently. We have to stop sending so much waste to EfW – especially when technology exists to benefit the circular economy, reduce costs, and lower CO2.

It’s time to drive the uptake of more innovative and green alternatives. Making waste have greater value makes great sense – for business and for the planet.