Is there a waste crisis in Amsterdam?

The issue of what to do with our waste is a constant problem which can very quickly unravel if the adequate infrastructure isn’t in place, or if for any reason it ceases to function. In a recent AcuComm article, you can read about the unsatisfactory situation in Rome and the wider picture in Italy. But the potential for a ‘waste crisis’ is everywhere. Italy may not have much waste-to-energy capacity for example, but as the Dutch authorities are currently finding, that doesn’t assure waste disposal.

Earlier in July, AEB, the waste-to-energy company owned by the municipality of Amsterdam announced the closure of four of its six incinerators, potentially for up to nine months, with the two remaining plants working at a reduced 80% capacity. The closure is the result of intervention from the environmental regulator, the OD NZKG, which placed AEB under stricter supervision back in February 2018. This sudden and massive reduction in waste processing capacity leaves Amsterdam with a major headache. There is much conjecture on what will become of the waste which can no longer be incinerated – with landfill an option and in the case of sewage sludge, a possible return to disposal at sea. The Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Water Board (Waterschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht), for example, delivers some 250 tonnes of sewage sludge to AEB every day. Storage capacity is limited and the option of sending the sludge to Germany, where it used to be co-fired in brown coal plants, is no longer permitted under EU rules. AEB is reportedly prepared to bear the financial consequences of the shutdown, but money alone isn’t going to solve the immediate issue of what to do with Amsterdam’s waste.

AcuComm currently has 7 projects involving AEB listed in its database, valued at an estimated €163.3 million in total.

Rome: Fiddling while the waste grows

Waste disposal in the Italian capital, Rome, has been in the news lately, or more accurately, the lack of it. Rome has lacked waste management capacity since its principal landfill (Malagrotta) was closed on environmental and mismanagement grounds in 2013. This followed a long-running European Commission investigation into the Roman and wider Italian waste sector. Since then, the city’s politicians have argued about what should replace the landfill, to little obvious effect.

Other than, that is, a rising level of waste around the city which smells worse and poses a greater health hazard in the hot summer months. Rome currently exports its waste either to other parts of the country or abroad. But even this arrangement seems to be falling prey to mismanagement and a lack of capacity. The end result is waste left untreated or dealt with illegally.

At AcuComm we don’t unearth a lot of waste projects in Italy, we’ve wondered why but, given the Roman experience, this is probably a fair reflection of the investment climate. The AcuComm database currently contains 28 waste-related projects, worth an estimated US$886 million or US$32 million each on average. The majority are either anaerobic digestion/biogas projects or dedicated materials recycling plants. You can check them all out here.

Aside from AD/biogas, there is very little investment activity in the waste-to-energy field. In 2016, the government decided that eight new MSW WtE plants should be constructed, to provide a total capacity of 1.831 million tonnes per year. As yet, nothing seems to have come of any of these plans, however. Other planned facilities have also struck difficulties. A new plant in Florence was approved in 2016 but was cancelled in 2018. An expansion of a plant in Pavia was announced around the same time, but this was postponed in 2017. At present, the only WtE plants that look likely are smaller and high-tech industry-specific ones. An example is a waste paper pyrolysis facility announced in northern Italy in 2019. This has yet to be built but has received approval on environmental grounds from the regional government.

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Italy’s official data for the generation and treatment of waste is interesting. The country generates more than it treats. In 2016, generation was 164 million tonnes, while treatment was 136 million tonnes, a treatment gap of 28 million tonnes or around 17%. Where does this unaccounted waste go? Assuming an accurate and consistent count (and the graph below demonstrates this may not be entirely the case), the best scenario is that it is exported to neighbouring countries. At worst, it’s disposed of illegally in an uncontrolled manner.

The official treatment figures themselves paint a suspiciously rosy picture. In 2016, recycling accounted for 79% of all waste treatment in Italy, landfill for 14% and incineration for the remaining 7%.  The broad story in the 2004-2016 period is that the proportion of landfill has more or less halved, while recycling and more or less doubled.

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How believable these figures are I’ll leave you to speculate on; the definition of ‘recycling’ can be very wide indeed. But the most pertinent point to note in the case of Italy is the near-total lack of adoption of WtE as a treatment method, in contrast to other major European economies.

As we are seeing in Rome, the options are limited once landfill is taken out of the treatment mix. The contrast with, for example, London, is great. London has reduced its reliance on landfill over the past 15 years but has also had a policy of building capacity to treat its own waste where possible, and not ship it elsewhere. Hence, a number of waste plants have been built or are earmarked across the city. Rome, like London, is a rich city. What it lacks is the political will to outline a solution.

MPs launch inquiry into e-waste

The UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into Electronic Waste (e-waste) and the circular economy.

The increasing use of electronic devices and equipment has led to a rapid increase in e-waste. Globally, 44.7 million tonnes of e-waste were produced in 2017, 90% of which, the Committee says was sent to landfill, incinerated, illegally traded or treated in a sub-standard way. Europe and the US account for almost half of all e-waste globally, with the EU predicted to produce 12 million tonnes by 2020. As the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, put it: “Our old fridges, freezers, computers, TVs, kettles and mobile phones are piling up in a ‘tsunami of e-waste’.

According to Ms Creagh “The UK produces more e-waste than the EU average. We are missing EU targets and are one of the worst offenders for exporting waste to developing countries, who are ill equipped to dispose of it in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Our attitude to e-waste is unsustainable and the need for radical action clear. We will be investigating the UK’s e-waste industry and looking at how we can create a circular economy for electronic goods.”

The UK produces 24.9kg of e-waste per person, higher than the EU average of 17.7kg. Electronic waste in the UK is managed under the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013.

Defra sets annual targets for the collection of WEEE across a range of categories. These are calculated based on the WEEE Directive’s target of 65% of the average annual weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market over the previous three years. The target for 2019 has been set at 550,577 tonnes, a 12% increase on 2018 levels. The UK missed its WEEE collection target by 45,000 tonnes in 2018.

The Government has committed to publishing a review of the 2013 WEEE Regulations this year and consulting on changing WEEE by the end of 2020. This consultation will consider ideas to incentivise sustainable product design and increase recycling. It has also committed £8 million in funding over the next three years to support research, behaviour change and local projects to boost reuse and recycling.

How do they recycle in New Jersey?

A couple of times recently I’ve touched on the issue of definitions in the waste industry, and how things might not always be how they initially seem. In the US, the New Jersey state legislature recently passed a new bill to deal with the state’s food waste. Under it, any establishment generating more than 52 tonnes of food waste per year will have to send this waste to an ‘authorised food waste recycling facility’. The only exception would be if the waste generator is not within 25 miles of such a facility.

The above probably conjures up images of anaerobic digesters and the like, and indeed these do form one type of authorised recycling facility. However, the legislation also mandates other types of disposal. Landfill sites are also acceptable, as long as they have gas collection facilities for the purpose of electricity generation. Also included are waste incineration facilities, with the proviso that these begin using anaerobic digestion methods within four years. Here then is another great example of the problem of defining anything in the waste industry, where New Jersey has created an extremely wide definition of ‘recycling’ indeed.

Whatever their merits, it’s unlikely that either landfill or incineration would be high on most people’s list when it comes to recycling. Indeed, recycling campaigners have criticised the bill for failing to promote recycling, in favour of established methods of waste disposal. Why the dispensation for incineration in the bill, given that it isn’t widely-adopted in the US? Well, New Jersey is one of the few US states to make much of WtE incineration; Covanta has its headquarters in the state and operates three WtE facilities there, at Camden, Newark and North Rahway. None of these currently operate anaerobic digestion facilities.

In the case of landfill, these sites are publicly-operated in New Jersey, and there seems to be a reluctance to lose tonnage throughput. This is quite the opposite of the situation in Western Europe or China, where landfills are either full and/or being phased out. Is landfill a better alternative to AD/biogas when dealing with food and other organic waste? I don’t think it’s an argument you will hear made in the UK or Europe. Maybe things just are different in the US, which has plenty of open space for landfill.

AcuComm currently lists 17 active waste sector projects in New Jersey. These are worth a total estimated US$846 million, or US$50 million each. Seven of these, valued at US$172 million, are principally classed as recycling. AcuComm classes WtE and landfill separately! These account for 16% and 6% of new project investment respectively, since 2013. Check all the projects out here.

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Expansion of mattress recycling

Mattresses have historically been a difficult waste stream to dispose of by conventional means. AcuComm recently reported on SUEZ Recycling and Recovery Belgium’s plans to build a dedicated mattress foam recycling plant in Belgium and last week Renewi plc announced that it has taken a 32% stake in RetourMatras, the biggest mattress recycling company within the Netherlands, alongside a minority stake of Ingka Investments (part of Ingka Group, the world’s largest franchisee of the IKEA Concept). RetourMatras has two operational facilities in the Netherlands.

The investment will fund the further expansion of RetourMatras throughout the Netherlands, cementing its market-leading position. Renewi provides the mattress recycling company access to a broader supply of mattresses and will gain operational benefits from the collaboration. IKEA is seen as the ideal circular partner with its strong commitment to sustainability and circular solutions for products.

RetourMatras has developed a unique mattress recycling technology for the sustainable processing of discarded mattresses. Using this technology, the mattresses can be 90% recycled into reusable materials.

RetourMatras estimates that 1.2 million mattresses are discarded in the Netherlands every year, while Belgian mattress recycler Vanheede Environment Group estimates that 1.1 million are thrown away in Belgium each year, equivalent to 22,000 tonnes of waste.

The persistence of landfill

An unusual new project turned up in the AcuComm database last week. The Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan, just north of Tokyo, is looking at the possible creation of a new landfill site for industrial waste. This is unusual because Japan sends very little waste to landfill. Space is at a premium, and the local press reports that no new landfill has opened in Ibaraki since 2005. New capacity is needed as all local landfill capacity is close to being filled.

It’s worth remembering that landfill is still the way most of the world deals with its waste. It is still the principal means of final waste disposal in the US, for example. WtE has never really caught on there and doesn’t look likely to do so in the near future. The same goes for Australia and New Zealand; both developed countries with plenty of space to bury waste. In all three of these, all legal landfill is closely regulated and controlled. In the developing world, there is a technology curve, as national and municipal governments seek to progress from uncontrolled dumping in fields or rivers to managed landfill.

The European perspective is very different. For at least two decades, EU regulations have reduced the commercial feasibility of landfill to a point where its use is negligible in many countries and is falling fast in most others. So landfill might not seem an interesting area of investment, but outside Europe there is plenty going on.

AcuComm currently has 358 active landfill projects in its database. These are worth just under US$8.0 billion, or around US$22 million each on average. The USA is by far the leading country for investment in landfill, accounting for 136 projects worth US$3.8 billion, or 48% of the global value. The main area of activity is the provision or expansion of landfill gas generation equipment, followed by creation or expansion of municipal landfill capacity, and development of specialist capacity for industrial or hazardous waste.

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Outside the US, the principal countries for new landfill investment are Australia, Canada, China, India, Russia, Tajikistan and the UK. All have ten or more active projects. The UK looks the odd one out in that list, but it’s worth remembering that landfill was the main means of disposal in the UK barely more than a decade ago. New investment in the UK is centred on not on new muncipal sites but on expansion of landfill gas, provision of hazardous landfill capacity, and renovation/restoration of old landfill to other uses. Tajikistan is not a country that figures often; there are ten sites earmarked for modernisation and expansion, with international funding assistance. None are beyond the planning stage yet, however. Opportunities in the landfill sector occur around the world; AcuComm currently has active projects in 63 countries. You can explore them all here.

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Waste Project in Belarus

The World Bank is to provide €90 million to Belarus to finance the Belarus Utility Efficiency and Quality Improvement Project which will support improvements to the country’s solid waste and wastewater programmes.

The project will pilot a regional approach to solid waste management, which includes construction of the Polotsk/Novopolotsk Regional Landfill and similar facilities in other towns across the country. New landfills will replace existing mini-landfills that have no environmental controls, to ensure the safe disposal of solid waste. In addition, several studies will be undertaken on the development of the waste management sector, along with public communications campaigns to raise environmental awareness.

The World Bank has previous experience in supporting the modernisation of waste management in Belarus. In 2017, its US$48 million Integrated Solid Waste Management Project in Belarus drew to a close, having successfully established a 120,000 tpa MRF in Grodno. The lead contractor was China Machinery Engineering Corporation.

AcuComm currently lists 24 active waste, recycling and bioenergy projects in Belarus, worth a total of US$1,262 million. The largest is a proposed waste incinerator in Minsk, which would have annual capacity of 500,000 tonnes when built.

Who are the operators?

A lot of attention gets paid to companies supplying waste plant equipment, or contractors working on plant construction. Rightly so. But what about the operators, the companies which often sponsor projects and manage their operations once complete?

In the municipal waste field, AcuComm currently lists 126 companies operating WtE facilities. Looking at where they are based helps answer two key questions for anyone analysing the industry; one, where is WtE most prominent?, and two, which companies are seeking to operate these facilities on a long term basis?

The UK leads the field, with 29 operators. This is followed by Japan with 20, Germany with 14 and Sweden/China with seven each. This makes sense; all four countries are widespread adopters of WtE as a means of dealing with waste. The UK heads the field rather than, say Germany, since the UK has been the centre of attention for new investment in recent years. German WtE plants tend to be more established. China, in contrast, has a high level of investment in WtE currently, but only a relatively small number of operator companies are involved there. At the other end of the scale, the USA barely registers; again, this is to be expected as the US is not currently a major base for WtE investment.

Don’t forget, at AcuComm we’re not covering the total installed base of a country’s waste management capacity. Rather, we’re looking at something hopefully more interesting; where is investment going now and in the near future.

Who are the leading operators identified in the UK? SUEZ Recycling and Recovery is the leading individual player, followed by Viridor, FCC Environment and SITA UK. The most recent project for SUEZ is a planned £300 million facility in Darwen, Lancashire. A planning decision for the project is due this summer; see the AcuComm project listing here for details.

UK aluminium recycling rate rises

The Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro), the industry funded, not-for-profit organisation which represents the UK’s aluminium packaging industry has revealed that the UK aluminium drinks can recycling rate has risen to 75%, its highest ever level, up from 54% in 2010.  Additionally, 95% of aluminium packaging collected in the UK is recycled within Europe, rather than being sent further afield. With sustainability becoming more and more important, the drinks can remains the most recycled packaging in the world.

The overall aluminium packaging rate has continued to rise steadily too, from 41% in 2010 to 52% in 2018, meaning that over 100,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging sold in the UK was recycled last year.

These significant improvements in UK aluminium recycling rates is attributed to the investment made by the aluminium sector as a whole to ensure that the packaging they produce is recycled.

Alupro believes that its programmes, such as MetalMatters and Every Can Counts, are positively impacting the behaviour of people across the UK by creating awareness of the recyclability of aluminium and metal packaging.

The government is currently consulting on reform to the producer responsibility system, which could lead to more accurate reporting of recycling rates.  A significant volume of used aluminium packaging is being recycled from refuse-derived fuel outside the UK, but not currently being officially recorded towards UK targets.  This means the latest impressive rates are still underreported, and future recycling rates for aluminium packaging will be even higher under these reforms.

AcuComm currently lists around 138 active projects worldwide which deal in some way with the recycling of aluminium. 60 of these are in the USA, while 13 are in Germany. The UK is in third place globally with ten active projects.

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Recycling Round-Up

Of late, plastics recycling has rightly taken centre stage in the attention of the media. But, while the issue of waste plastic has risen to the top of the environmental agenda, it’s far from the only specialist form of recycling to attract industry interest. So I took a look to see what other forms of recycling are rising in prominence, and where. There’s a range of investment in other interesting areas of recycling.

AcuComm currently has 450 active recycling projects which deal with some form of specialised municipal waste. Plastics are in the lead, with 157 projects. These are valued at US$3,076 million, or just under US$20 million each on average.

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In second place is metal recycling. AcuComm has 125 of these, valued at US$5,280 million. This makes them larger on average than plastics facilities, at US$42 million apiece. Metal recycling facilities cover a range of activities, from basic automobile recyclers to specialist facilities dealing with recovery of metals and even specific metal types from general waste.

The largest number are in the Americas, principally the USA, where we have 53 projects worth US$1,886 million, or US$36 million on average. There are 43 projects in Europe; Germany is the leading individual country with 12 (US$714 million or US$60 million each), followed by the UK with seven (US$198 million or US$28 million each). There are relatively few projects in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, but some important individual investments occur all over the world. For example, the most recent is a lead recycling facility which opened in Tanzania in April 2019.

Also of interest is the related field of e-waste recycling. The AcuComm database contains 65 active e-waste projects in 26 countries. These are worth US$1,069 million in total, or US$16 million on average. As for metals, the largest number are in the USA at 22, followed by the UK with six and the UAE with three. The newest is in Belgium, where a proposed plant for the development of a plant for recycling technical polymers from e-waste received public funding in May 2019.

Next is rubber. AcuComm lists 44 rubber recycling plants, worth a total of US$1,050 million or US$24 million each. Again, most are in the Americas or Europe. These deal almost exclusively with the recycling of used automobile tyres. The most recent is a proposed facility in Queensland, Australia, which will have capacity to process 700,000 car and truck tyres a year.

AcuComm currently lists 29 paper recycling projects, worth US$1,599 million in total. Some of these are relatively large, making for an average of US$55 million. Again, the USA predominates with ten projects, followed by the UK with five. The most recent new project is a paper recycling system in Oslo, Norway, due to open in 2019.

Finally, glass recycling accounts for 30 projects, worth US$452 million. This is equal to a relatively low US$15 million on average; this is largely attributable to several projects in our database which comprise small upgrades to existing facilities. Around half of glass recycling projects are in the USA or the UK.