The decision of the UK in the recent referendum to leave the European Union (EU) is a supremely important decision, both for the country and Europe as a whole. The UK can be expected to leave the EU at some point over the next two years, although the precise timing is not known at present.
What effect is this likely to have on the treatment and disposal of waste in the UK?
The UK has been a major investor in new technologies for waste treatment in recent years. This is to replace landfill, which until a decade ago was by far the most popular form of disposal. A major driver for this has been the adoption of EU directives regarding waste, including greater recycling and reuse, and financial penalties for landfill. This will continue during the transitional phase, and most likely afterwards. While a post-brexit government would have the ability to adopt a new approach, this is unlikely to be a priority and any new laws would be sure to follow similar environmental concerns.
Perhaps more movement could be seen in the power generation field. Here, in order to comply with EU regulations, the UK has been closing older coal-fired power stations and replacing them with a variety of newer technologies, such as waste-to-energy or biomass incineration. A post-brexit government, faced with the rising prospect of a gap between generation and consumption, might wish to adopt a new approach or retain existing stations for longer than would have been the case.
The wider macro-economic and political position should not be ignored. Brexit could feasibly have a short-term impact on the economy and in particular on government finances. This could lead to reduced investment in capital projects, as was seen in the 2008-2010 period. Also worth noting is the position of Scotland, which voted firmly to remain in the EU and may decide to separate from the UK as a consequence. This could lead to renewed dislocation, with a potentially negative impact on Scottish government finances.
Moves towards brexit are some years away, however, and unlikely to affect current investments. Where can information be found on the state of the UK’s waste treatment market as of 2016? Publicly-collected statistics on waste generation and treatment are available, but they can only tell you so much. While they offer a useful pointer to trends and the general direction of travel in the industry, they are often several years out of date, and can be beset with inconsistencies and reporting errors.
AcuComm’s proprietary waste database is different. Our researchers seek out data on recent and forthcoming investments, to provide an accurate picture of requirements and funding availability right now and in the future. We currently have over 4,000 active projects listed worldwide, with an average value of US$76 million each. In the UK, we have 153 dealing with the treatment of municipal solid waste, worth an estimated US$20.3 billion. Of these, 41 are due to become operational by the end of 2017, worth an estimated US$6.6 billion.
The pie charts below are taken from freely-available Eurostat data. They show the change which has taken place in the UK waste treatment market over the past decade, as landfill has become less prominent, and greater use has been made of recycling and WtE incineration.
The following map shows the location of investments opened or planned between 2013 and 2016 by treatment type, taken from AcuComm’s database. The full database contains detail on each one, including values, timescales and contact names for each of the companies involved. WtE incineration is the leading technology, with 48 active investments across the country.
Eric Wigart, AcuComm Chairman & Andy Crofts, Chief Researcher