The Maldives: Dealing with MSW in paradise

The Maldives is a vast archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It is sparsely populated, having less than half a million people. Income per person is relatively high, estimated by the IMF at US$14,571 in 2019. This level of income has been attained rapidly over the past couple of decades, and is almost entirely due to the growth of tourism.

This rapid growth has given the Maldives a municipal waste problem, as tourism and rising income levels have led to more waste being generated. Additionally, more of that waste comprises plastics, metals and hazardous materials, and is therefore harder to deal with. To this can be added the country’s geography. Large numbers of small widely-dispersed islands present a quite different challenge to, say, a single large city. As we have seen in other developing parts of the world, there is simply no infrastructure to deal with this.

As a response, Thilafushi, a coral atoll, was designated as a landfill island as long ago as 1992, although most of its growth has taken place in the past decade. It takes anywhere between 300 and 800 tonnes per day of waste (statistics are scarce and reports contradictory). This is supposed to be sorted and sent to different areas of the island, although uncontrolled dumping and burning seems to be the norm in practice. The volume of waste has become too large to be properly accommodated, and much leaks back into the surrounding waters. This naturally matters on environmental grounds, and even more so since Thilafushi is only a few kilometres from Malé, the main island and capital of the Maldives.

maldivesSource: Bing Maps. Click here for the precise location online.

The two photographs below show Thilafushi in 2005 and 2019. The southern part has been greatly extended by the landfill site as the volume of waste creeps around the lagoon.

googleearth googleearth2Source: Google Earth Pro

Thilafushi was intended to solve the Maldives’ waste problem, but its inadequacy has become a scandal in itself. The Maldives’ government, spurred by environmental pressures and the need to preserve the country’s reputation as a tourist paradise, has made fitful efforts to improve the situation. Management of the island has, in theory, improved with the creation of Waste Management Corporation Limited (WAMCO) with a mandate to provide a sustainable waste management solution throughout the country. In January 2016, WAMCO officially took over waste management for Malé region. This includes the daily transfer of waste from Malé to Thilafushi and the resulting disposal of waste there.

Greater use of WtE incineration has been the preferred means of alleviating the problem, although until recently little had been achieved, with various plans coming and going without success. In September 2019, the government announced that three small incinerators currently based on Thilafushi will be dismantled and rebuilt on islands on other parts of the country. These are tiny, with daily capacity of four tonnes each, and would appear to be part of a move to dispose of waste in situ rather than ship it to Thilafushi, which will of course lose incineration capacity in the meantime. The move should be completed in early 2022.

The move anticipates a more significant development for Thilafushi, which is the construction of a proper WtE facility there. On 23rd May 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) issued a General Procurement Notice for the Greater Malé Waste to Energy Project. The Ministry of Finance, on behalf of Ministry of Environment, has published an Invitation for Prequalification for sealed bids to design, build and operate a waste-to-energy facility at K. Thilafushi (Reference Number: (IUL)13-K/13/2019/148, Project Number: TES/2019/W-073). The deadline for submission of applications was extended from 18th July to 4th August 2019. This contract will be jointly financed by the ADB, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Japan Fund for Joint Crediting Mechanism. It is expected that the Invitation for Bids will be made in November 2019. Details on the scope of the project are currently not available, but its progress can be tracked on the ADB website here.

2019 has also begun to see some positive developments elsewhere. On 22nd July 2019, the Maldives began generating energy from waste for the first time, through a facility opened in Vandhoo, Raa Atoll. Funded via concessional loan assistance from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Vandhoo Regional Waste Management Centre was established in order to manage waste from the Atolls of Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani.


Recycling lithium batteries

Lithium batteries have been around for nearly 30 years now. They are used increasingly in a wide range of product, from phones to electric vehicles to aeroplanes. They have the advantage of being easily rechargeable and generate more power than older battery technologies. They do, however present specific risks when being disposed of; they are more easily flammable, and a lithium-based fire is not easy to put out. As more products and vehicles containing these batteries come to the end of their life, waste operators are having to take more care in identifying and sorting them from general waste streams. It’s a new area, but in the past few years, efforts have begun to be made to better understand how lithium batteries can be safely dealt with and recycled.

A search of the AcuComm database reveals a handful of dedicated lithium battery recycling plants around the world. Australia opened its first such facility in 2017, when Envirostream began operations in Melbourne. Its processing line can process 40 tonnes of batteries per month. The process requires batteries to have all their energy discharged prior to any handling by the company’s staff. After this first step, all batteries are granulated in an environment of negative pressure to ensure that all airborne dust particles are captured. Cobalt, nickel and lithium, which are in dust form and mixed, go for further processing and can be separated and purified to be used again in battery manufacture.

In Japan, a facility dedicated to recycling lithium batteries from electric vehicles opened in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, in 2018. The plant is operated by 4R Energy Corporation, a joint venture between Nissan and Sumitomo. The availability of used lithium-ion batteries is expected to increase significantly in the near future as buyers of the first generation of electric cars look to replace their vehicles. The batteries recycled and refabricated at the factory will be used to offer the world’s first exchangeable refabricated battery for electric vehicles.

Another approach is the better sorting of lithium batteries from the general waste stream, or indeed to sort them from other battery types. For example, In 2017, Refind Technologies installed its OBS600 optical battery sorting technology at Raw Materials Company’s (RMC) recycling facility in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. The equipment is capable of sorting 600 kg of batteries per hour. The OBS600 machine uses a camera and machine learning software to recognise each battery by its label. It can handle small consumer batteries of cylindrical and rectangular shape and can sort them by chemistry, including alkaline, zinc-carbon, nickel-metal hydride, nickel-cadmium and lithium primary.

Finally, a couple of major R&D centres have recently been announced, to investigate ways to recycle lithium batteries and other hard to process e-waste items. In February 2019, the US Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office opened the first lithium-ion battery recycling research and development centre at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, IL. Known as the ReCell Center, the project aims to reclaim and recycle critical materials from lithium-based battery technology. The recycling centre focuses on cost-effective recycling processes to recover as much economic value as possible from spent batteries.

Soon after, in March 2019, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the French Alternative Energies and the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA – Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives) unveiled the launch of a joint research centre to develop innovative, energy-efficient solutions for the recycling and recovery of resources from electrical and electronic waste. The new centre, named the NTU Singapore-CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (NTU SCARCE), will focus on four research areas that address the recycling and recovery of materials from common e-waste such as: lithium-ion batteries, silicon-based solar panels; printed circuit boards from discarded e-waste; and detoxifying plastic parts in e-waste. The National Environment Agency of Singapore is supporting this centre under the agency’s Closing the Waste Loop Research and Development Initiative.

The map below shows the locations of all the lithium recycling and R&D sites mentioned in the AcuComm database. To explore the full dataset, click here.

mapSource: AcuComm database, October 2019

Southern England WtE update

The last few weeks have seen mixed fortunes for several major waste-to-energy projects in the South of England. Here’s a roundup.

On 27th September 2019, Grundon and Viridor announced outline plans for the development of a new waste-to-energy (WtE) facility at Ford in West Sussex. The facility will be built at Grundon’s Ford Circular Technology Park, near its existing waste transfer and depot operations, and adjacent to Viridor’s existing materials recovery facility (MRF).

Attempts to build a facility on the site go back several years. West Sussex County Council granted planning permission for a non-hazardous waste facility on the site in 2014, but this was never built. While Grundon has noted that the planning permission therefore already exists for the site, it is currently unclear how the 2019 proposal relates to the older plans. The latter entailed a 200,000 tonne per year gasification plant, dealing predominantly with industrial and commercial waste.

Click here to view the precise location in Bing maps.


Also in the south of England, Wheelabrator has experienced a setback in its attempts to construct a WtE plant at the A303 Enviropark near Andover in Hampshire. A public consultation ended in March 2019. Wheelabrator expects the second stage of statutory public consultation to take place between early November to mid-December 2019, later than originally planned. Wheelabrator has been reviewing the design plans of the proposed development after receiving feedback on the current design during non-statutory consultation and has confirmed that there will be two combustion lines at the outset, and therefore there will be no phasing. The planning application is expected to be submitted towards the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Click here to view the precise location in Bing maps.


Finally, there is progress to report on the long-anticipated replacement for the Edmonton WtE plant in north London. This dates to the 1970s and is coming to the end of its working life. The operator, North London Waste Authority (NLWA), first began plans for a new facility in 2014. Contracts began to be issued in 2018, and a third ‘Market Information Event’ was held on 9th October 2019 in central London for works associated with the delivery of the project. It has been subject to some ground preparation delays, but NLWA still anticipates that the site will become operational in 2025.

Click here to view the precise location in Bing maps.


Lucky 97 for the Basel Amendment

Croatia recently made a small piece of waste management history. Earlier last month, it ratified the United Nations Basel Convention Amendment. This means that enough countries have now ratified it and it has come into force.

The Amendment in question seeks to completely ban shipments of hazardous waste from developed countries (principally OECD+EU) to developing ones. This is regardless of the method of disposal in the importing country; shipments for recycling or waste to energy are not permitted. It came into force in 1995, but national ratifications have been slow. Croatia’s ratification came on September 6th 2019, making it the 97th country to ratify. Hazardous waste is broadly defined as anything explosive, flammable, toxic or corrosive. The full definitions can be found in the annexes to the text here.

The Amendment forms part of the wider UN Basel Convention. This began in 1989 as a way of controlling the export of waste, and especially hazardous waste, to developing countries. It was ratified in 1992 with pretty much every country in the world signing up, with the large exception of the USA. Oddly, the US government signed the Convention in 1990, and the Senate gave consent in 1992. However, the accompanying legislation required has never been enacted and the Convention is therefore not ratified in the USA. Given the timescale involved I’d hazard the view that it’s not a priority for US lawmakers and we shouldn’t expect anything soon.

While the USA is the only major country yet to ratify the Convention as a whole, a number of OECD countries have yet to ratify the Amendment. These include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. Other major countries not to ratify are Brazil, India and Russia, although there is less effect in these cases as they are not OECD members.

The Basel process is still an ongoing one. In May 2019, the Convention has begun looking at the inclusion of plastic waste within its remit, with a special emphasis on reducing the amount of plastics entering the world’s oceans.

As the environmental and regulatory pressure grows, exporting of waste is going to get harder and less financially viable. This is a major headache currently, but is also a huge opportunity for the development of capacity in countries which currently export a lot of waste.

Who are these countries? The top ten leading waste exporters in 2018, by monetary value, are shown in the graph below. Note this refers to all identifiable waste, not just hazardous elements. The global total in 2018 amounted to US$113.4 billion, of which the top ten accounted for US$68.4 billion or 60.3%. The USA headed the field with just under US$21.0 billion, and seven of the remaining nine are members of the OECD. Only Russia and Hong Kong in 9th and 10th places respectively are not OECD members.

exportersSource: AcuComm analysis of UN trade statistics

Focus on clinical waste

Clinical waste is an important niche area of the waste management sector. While volumes are typically small, such waste is often hazardous or unpleasant in nature and needs to be disposed of in a sensitive manner. It’s a job that hospitals typically undertake themselves, but there is growing interest in the provision of such services from specialised third parties.

One such is Tradebe. In September 2019, the company received a draft environmental permit from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to operate a new clinical waste treatment facility at the Bellshill Healthcare Waste Treatment and Transfer Site in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. Planning permission was granted in July 2019. The draft permit allows for a capacity exceeding 10 tonnes per day of hazardous waste and 75 tpd of non-hazardous waste. Tradebe expects the plant to be operational in October 2019, to fulfil a 10-year contract with the Scottish Government, valued at £10 million annually.

The Bellshill site will manage clinical waste disposal in Scotland for a range of waste producers. This will primarily involve waste produced by NHS Scotland trusts, but could also include waste arising from private hospitals, pharmacies, care homes, beauticians and veterinary practices. The service will include collecting, transporting, treating and disposing of the clinical wastes. Waste will be collected from medical and research sites. It will comprise of both clinical waste and other wastes produced on these facilities. At the Bellshill site, depending on the waste type, the waste will be either bulked up and sent off-site for incineration or disposal at landfill or treated on-site via a shredder, steam auger and drier, before compaction. This waste treatment process will be supported by natural gas powered boilers to provide heat to generate steam, natural gas burners to provide warm air for the drier (indirect heating), enclosed automatic bin washers and a vehicle wash-down area.

Tradebe Healthcare is one of a small number of dedicated clinical waste management companies. It operates largely in the UK, although the parent company is in Spain. In addition to the Bellshill site, it currently has four other locations in the UK: Avonmouth, Redditch, Wrexham and Rochester. The latter site was expanded in August 2019. The company is also involved in the US market. In November 2018, it announced a new upgrading project at a site in New Jersey run by Norlite, a Tradebe subsidiary. This is expected to be complete early in 2020.

Including those referenced above, AcuComm currently lists 32 active projects dealing exclusively with clinical waste. These are principally located in the USA and UK, although individual examples can be found elsewhere.

clinical-graphSource: AcuComm database September 2019. Click here to view the full dataset.

Clinical waste projects tend to be small-scale in comparison with more general waste projects. The average value of a clinical project in the AcuComm database is around US$13 million, while the annual throughput is an average of 11,600 tonnes per year or around 30 tonnes per day. Many are far smaller than this; for example a facility opened in Oman in 2016 which has capacity of 2.2 tonnes per day.

Incineration is the most common form of disposal, although there are signs of interest in the use of more advanced forms of treatment. AcuComm lists two clinical waste gasification plants, for example, one in the UK and one in the USA. Both were announced in 2018 but neither is currently operational. As ever, the more advanced the technology, the longer and less certain the lead times become.

Trash incinerators feel the Bern

August 2019 saw US Senator Bernie Sanders launch his Green New Deal. This is a wide-ranging set of environmental policy proposals which cut across many areas of economic activity. It’s certainly radical, having been costed by the Sanders camp themselves at US$16.3 trillion.

One of those areas is of course the waste management field. The plan calls for the establishment of a nationwide materials recycling programme, in which companies are made responsible for ‘taking back’ materials from products they manufacture, in order that these materials can be recycled. The green energy sector itself should make more use of such recycled materials when constructing infrastructure:

‘To prevent an outsized impact on the environment from harvesting raw materials, we must build the wind turbines, solar panels, new cars, and batteries we need with as many recycled materials as possible.’

The other waste area specifically mentioned in the Green New Deal is waste-to-energy, although only briefly:

To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators. (editor’s bold)

That’s about as briskly dismissive as it’s possible to be, and contrasts sharply with much of Europe or Asia, where waste incineration is seen as not only as the best solution to dealing with waste, but also environmentally sensitive if done correctly. But the Sanders plan dismisses ‘trash incinerators’ as a false solution.

In the wider scheme of things regarding sustainable energy, maybe Sanders is right and maybe he isn’t. Either way it’s a view which is not wholly uncontested within the US. The country has never really embraced waste-to-energy. Incinerators tend to be concentrated in the industrial east and north, and many states and cities make no use of WtE at all.

But here’s an example of an opposing view. Also in August 2019, the US Department of Energy release a new report through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. My colleague Ian Taylor made mention of it last week. Entitled Waste-to-Energy from Municipal Solid Wastes’, it explores how greater use might be made of WtE in the US. The report defines WtE as standard incineration, more advanced methods such as gasification, and anaerobic digestion/biogas. The report notes that ‘high operating costs and high-level of competition from alternative sources make the production of heat and power from MSW economically challenging’ (page iv), but that several R&D initiatives could help to improve the efficiency of the sector. These include better sorting of waste, better construction/maintenance to reduce operating costs, new methods of biogas development, greater use of gasification technologies, and more investment in biofuels from, for example, discarded plastics. I’ll look at it in more detail in a future article.

Senator Sanders would, I think, reply that much of the above is neither desirable nor necessary. His focus after all is not on waste management but on a total reshaping of US environmental policy. However, amid the wider environmental clash of ideas, treatment of waste cannot fail to be affected by the broader direction of policy, whichever way it goes. Some form of change is certain; I’ve already discussed in previous articles how exporting of waste to China and elsewhere is dying off, so domestic solutions will need to be found. You can tell a lot about where a person or organisation stands by the language they use… ‘trash incinerator’ is a very different-sounding term to ‘waste-to-energy’.

What chance does the Sanders Green New Deal have of being implemented? On the face of it, very little; there’s a lot of public sector and collectivist proposals in it which are going to be a hard sell to the US electorate. But the Senator deserves to be taken seriously. The very name Green New Deal deliberately refers to the 1930s New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt which controversially (even to this day) but successfully expanded the role of the federal government in the management of the economy. Sanders is certainly to one side of the political debate, but he was a credible candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and was only narrowly defeated by Hillary Clinton. He will be a candidate again in 2020. Who is to say he won’t win and then go on to challenge President Trump for the White House? I don’t think I’d quite put money on a President Sanders just yet, but stranger things have indeed happened.

US and China metals scrap

Wastedive has reported that China is to add an extra 5% tariff to imports of selected metal imports, from December 2019. Included are certain scrap metals such as aluminium and copper. These metals already attract Chinese tariffs of up to 50%. The extra tariff may not be implemented; it forms part of the stand-off between the Chinese and US governments over trade, which may yet be resolved amicably. But even an extra 5% will make such trade in scrap metals less profitable than now.

Copper and aluminium are the two leading scrap metal export categories for US-China trade, so it isn’t hard to see why China has targeted these for additional tariffs. But the trade is already a declining one. The US sent US$6.2 billion worth of scrap copper and aluminium to China in 2011, but by 2018 this had fallen to less than US$1.8 billion. Existing tariffs have played their part in this, alongside a wider and ongoing tightening of China’s rules regarding permissible waste imports.


As we have recently seen with plastics, a major and rapid shift is taking place. Only a few years ago, China was the leading destination for all kinds of waste from around the world, but no longer. As of 2020, the Chinese government has indicated that all solid waste imports will be banned. How this will work in practice is currently unknown, but it is certain that the existing trend will accelerate; alternative means of disposal will have to be found in the US and elsewhere for waste products, whose commodity value is falling due to oversupply.

One option is to find alternative export markets for scrap metals. Another is to develop domestic recycling capacity. This is tricky in a market where the value of the product is falling, but there is plenty of interest in the US in new recycling investment. The AcuComm database currently lists around 54 active metal recycling/processing projects in the US. These are worth around US$1.7 billion and come in various sizes. At the larger end of the scale is a proposed US$80 million scrap aluminium recycling plant in Wisconsin which gained planning permission in January 2019. This is due to begin operations towards the end of 2020. Far smaller in scale is a US$1.2 million investment by Nespresso to aid sorting and recycling of its aluminium coffee capsules in New York City. This is due to be operational by the end of 2019.


Building Egypt’s new capital city

It’s not often that an entire capital city gets built from scratch, but Egypt is currently in the process of doing just that. In 2015, the government of Egypt announced that a new administrative capital would be built on previously undeveloped land to the south-east of the current capital, Cairo. Construction began in 2016.

We’re not just talking about a few office blocks here. The proposal is for a city of five to seven million people. As yet it has no name, other than the unofficial ‘New Administrative City’. A public competition is to be held this year, to decide a name. You can see the building work taking shape here. There has been heavy Chinese involvement in construction work, through the China State Construction Engineering Corp (CSCEC). The cost of constructing the new city is usually put at US$58 billion, but the final total is anyone’s guess.

Of course, a new city will generate waste. It’s an interesting planning question; if you are starting from scratch, what waste facilities would you build? It’s fair to say that Egypt to date has been at the more unregulated end of the waste management spectrum, but some thought has been given to the question regarding the new capital. This is, after all, meant to be a prestigious modern development and – ideally – will have infrastructure to match. In July 2019, the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, represented by the New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA), signed a memorandum of understanding with FAS Energy for the construction of a number of new WtE plants in Egypt including in the new capital. Details on individual sites are not yet available, but the agreement is for a total of 100 MW capacity at a cost of US$300 million to US$500 million.

WtE is an obvious choice for city planners in a hurry. Plants can deal with large volumes of waste relatively easily and discreetly, and have the bonus of generating electrical power. But who is FAS Energy? It is a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian Fawaz Al-Hokair group, a major property development company. FAS Energy was founded in 2013, and initially concentrated on development of solar power projects in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. It appears to be branching out into the WtE field in 2019, with the above-mentioned agreement and a second WtE proposal planned in Saudi Arabia itself. It is currently unclear what overseas partners FAS will work with on these projects, whether Western, Chinese, Japanese or a mixture of all three.

Quite when Egypt’s new capital will begin to operate is unclear. The first government officials are due to move from Cairo at some point in 2019. Then the main organs of government will follow, including the presidential palace, central bank and supreme court. A commercial district, named Capital Park, is also under construction. There’s a good recent article about it all here. Whether any of it will ever resemble the glossy architects’ plans is a moot point, but the move is not without precedent. Kazakhstan and Myanmar have created new capital cities in the past 20 years, and Brazil famously did it in the 1960s. The scale of Egypt’s new capital, however, is much greater a public undertaking, and the infrastructure requirements – including waste management – are commensurately challenging.

End of the road for Hertfordshire’s big WtE plans?

Efforts by Hertfordshire County Council to develop a new WtE plant suffered a major setback in July 2019, following the government’s refusal of planning permission for a 350,000 tonne, 33.5 MW facility adjacent to the Rye House Power Station at Ratty’s Lane, Hoddesdon, 22 miles to the northeast of London.

hertfordshire Source: Bing Maps/Ordnance Survey. Find the site’s location at 51.753265, 0.013762

Plans for the Hoddesdon plant were drawn up in 2016 and approved by the council in 2017. However, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) ‘called in’ the application in February 2018, meaning a public inquiry needed to be held. This took place in the summer of 2018. The process ended in July 2019 when the Secretary of State rejected the application. He cited two main reasons: firstly, there would be ‘significant adverse landscape and visual impacts’, and secondly, the road access to the site is considered insufficient for the proposed volume of heavy goods traffic the plant would generate. The complete published decision can be read here.

The decision also spells bad news for Veolia, as Hertfordshire council felt it had no option but to terminate its 2011 agreement with the company on 8th August 2019. The failure of the Hoddesdon plan follows an earlier rejection by the government of a similar WtE project to be built by Veolia at New Barnfield, just to the south of Hatfield and to the west of Hoddesdon. While the county council gave the site the go ahead in 2012, the government overturned this in July 2014. This decision was confirmed on appeal in July 2015 and the project was cancelled.

Hertfordshire’s fruitless search for additional waste capacity has therefore now been going on for nearly a decade. There is general agreement on the need to reduce waste sent to landfill and deal with waste more locally, and broad agreement that WtE is the best option. But there is no agreement on where such a site might be located.

The county has very little local waste disposal capacity, and therefore an historic reliance on landfill and sending waste to other parts of the country to be disposed of. While only around 26% of Hertfordshire’s residual waste is sent to landfill, the tonnage rose by 21% in 2017/18, to 64,112 tonnes. Most of the remainder is sent to WtE plants outside Hertfordshire.

hertfordshire-graph Source: Hertfordshire Waste Partnership,Annual Report 2017/18

The diagram below shows where Hertfordshire’s residual waste is sent. The only major disposal site in the county is the Westmill landfill, to the northwest of Ware. This is operated by Biffa. It opened in the 1980s and is, according to Biffa, one of the busiest landfills in the country, accepting around 500,000 tonnes of waste each year. The vast majority of this is, presumably, from outside Hertfordshire. Two other landfill sites are used: Bletchley in Buckinghamshire and Milton in Cambridgeshire. Both are operated by FCC Environment. Three WtE sites are used: Ardley in Oxfordshire, Edmonton in north London (itself the subject of ongoing and controversial redevelopment plans), and Greatmoor in Buckinghamshire.

hertfordshire-waste Source: Hertfordshire Waste Partnership Annual Report 2017/18, page 41

What happens next is unclear, although nothing is likely to develop in a hurry following the termination of the Veolia agreement. There appears to be no other site or partnership in the pipeline at present. Existing arrangements can be rolled forward, but before long the issue will need to be revisited. Hertfordshire County Council has noted that the collapse of the Hoddesdon plan ‘…leaves us with a substantial problem as we’re running out of options for dealing with the residual waste Hertfordshire currently produces, and with 100,000 new homes expected in the county in the next 15 years we urgently need more waste treatment capacity. In the short term we will have to continue transporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste to other parts of the country for treatment which is expensive and bad for the environment.’

Interestingly, while the Veolia plan has been terminated, Ratty’s Lane is a well-established site for waste plants. Firstly, a smaller private WtE facility is being built there. This is a 10 MWe gasification plant, to be powered not by municipal waste but by RDF from the commercial and industrial sectors. This too has been subject to a number of delays, although not in this case planning-related. Work began in 2015 and, according to its developer, Bioenergy Infrastructure Group, the plant is currently expected to be operational some time in 2019. Secondly, Biogen UK has a 3 MW AD plant powered by food waste there. This has annual capacity of 65,000 tonnes and became operational in 2016. As I’ve mentioned before, small may or may not be beautiful, but it is far less likely to fall foul of planning laws.

The waste sector heats up: the role of pyrolysis

This week I thought I’d take a look at pyrolysis and its role in the waste sector. The technology is not new; essentially involving the deconstruction of waste or other matter through very high temperatures. While the overall numbers are small, it’s one of the more cutting-edge areas of waste management technology, with various patented approaches being developed. The following refers to projects in the AcuComm database where we can identify use of pyrolysis technology in some form. Related technologies such as gasification are not included.

AcuComm currently lists 90 projects which involve pyrolysis. The majority are not yet operational, however. Of the 90, 18 are either known to be on-hold or of uncertain status in some way. Only 23 are currently known to be operational, equal to 26% of the total. Interestingly, that percentage drops to 12% in terms of project value, suggesting that most of the operational activity to date is in smaller pilot projects.


Pyrolysis projects cut across a number of AcuComm’s facility type categories. The bulk involve general disposal of waste. One example is a new clinical waste disposal facility in Avonmouth, near Bristol, UK, which went into operation in July 2018.

Recycling is also significant, particularly of rubber or plastics. A recent example is a planned plastics recycling plant in Perth, Scotland. Recycling Technologies Ltd plans to use its RT7000 pyrolysis technology to turn waste plastics into oil form, which can then be used to make new plastic projects. The site is relatively small, with capacity for 7,000 tonnes of waste plastic per year, but is expected to be operational by the end of 2019. A pilot plant is already operating in Swindon, Wiltshire.

The largest number of pyrolysis projects are to be found in the USA and UK, which between them account for 29 active projects, equal to 40% of the total. If only operational plants are considered, the USA has five, followed by the UK with three, and Australia, Germany and Spain with two apiece.

While other countries lack this mass of projects, significant potential investments can be found around the globe. One example is New Zealand, where the government issued a grant in 2017 for a pilot project for the disposal of used tyres through pyrolysis. This is currently ongoing, although its precise status is unclear. Additionally, a proposed WtE plant in Huntly, New Zealand, may also include some form of pyrolysis capacity. It is far from certain whether this will ever be built, although that has more to do with a general resistance to WtE plants in New Zealand rather than any specific objections to pyrolysis.

AcuComm lists around 98 companies (classified as operators, contractors or equipment suppliers) involved with pyrolysis projects. The USA is home to 29 of these, followed by 11 in the UK and 10 in Germany.


AcuComm subscribers can easily explore and download the full data held on all these pyrolysis projects, including details on the companies involved, here.