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.

UK Contracts for Difference

On 29th May, the UK launched its third Contracts for Difference (CfD) round under which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will offer £65 million to support up to 6GW of new renewable energy capacity, enough to power around 350,000 homes each year.

This third round of funding is open to anaerobic digestion projects greater than 5 MW, dedicated biomass CHP projects and advanced conversion technology projects, as well as other renewable technologies such as wind, geothermal and tidal.

Registration closes on 18th June and winning bidders will be due to start contributing power to the grid from 2023/2024.

Around 10 GW of renewable power projects have been awarded CfD contracts since 2015, with more than £490 million having been spent to date. The UK Government is aiming for 70% of electricity to come from low carbon sources by 2030.

The first round of CfD contracts was awarded in 2015. There were five in the waste/biomass sectors, totalling 157 MW. None are as yet operational. The most advanced is the Energy Works facility at Hull, although this has been plagued with construction difficulties and delays; the main contractor was replaced in March 2019 and it is currently uncertain when the plant will open. The other four projects are at even earlier stages of development.

The second round of contracts, issued in 2017, appears to have fared even worse. Eight projects in the waste and biomass sectors were selected, but most appear to have fallen away due to planning or funding difficulties. It remains to be seen whether any are operational on schedule in 2021/22.

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An end to grand projects in the UK?

The funding landscape for large waste projects in the UK has altered in the past few years. In 2015, the government stepped back from funding new ventures in the waste sector, citing satisfactory progress in the reduction of the amount of waste going to landfill. According to the Treasury’s National Infrastructure Development Plan 2016-2021:

England is currently on track to meet the existing landfill diversion 2020 targets. As such the government is not currently planning to fund any new waste infrastructure projects beyond those already in the Pipeline. (p.64)

This Pipeline consists of four government-funded projects, as of February 2019. Three are currently under construction, while one has to have a public funding figure confirmed. The largest is the new WtE facility in Sutton, south London. This has a total public funding commitment of £191.1 million, although most of this has already been spent; the final tranche of £20 million is slated for 2018/19. The only ongoing government funding commitment for 2019/20 is a WtE plant in Gloucestershire. This is due to be fully operational in mid-2019. It received £50 million in 2018/19 and will receive a final £25 million in 2019/20. The third project (and only remaining PFI deal) is a gasification and anaerobic digestion facility in Shepperton, Surrey. At the time of writing, this is partially operational and due to come fully on stream later in 2019. It has received £102.2 million from government, the last being £8.9 million in 2018/19.

The one proposed funding project is a new WtE plant in Hoddeston, Hertfordshire. This was first announced by Veolia and Hertfordshire County Council in 2016, but work has been delayed by planning difficulties. As of May 2019, the government had yet to make a decision regarding it.

The government is not backing out of the sector altogether, of course; see Ian’s article this week on the CfD scheme, which continues to establish a government-backed minimum tariff for electricity generated by selected sites, albeit with limited success so far. But the level of central government investment is undeniably lower. Contrast the 2016 document with the 2010 National Infrastructure Plan, which talked about over 30 waste sector projects to receive funding:

In order to meet EU landfill diversion targets the Government will continue to support a programme of 21 contracted waste PFI projects and 11 projects still in procurement, at an estimated cost of £95 million in 2014-15 and £120 million a year from 2017-18. (p.36)

This could of course change back – who knows who will be running the UK Treasury in a few months’ time – but for the time being at least, the PFI/PPP pipeline is pretty much dry.

It would be wrong, however, to think that the UK market is drying up totally. It’s probably fair to say that the government’s focus has been on London and the south, but there’s plenty of private interest across the country. In 2019 so far, AcuComm has reported on seven new WtE plants planned across the UK. If all are built, these would generate around 210 MW of electricity and have a waste thoughput of 2.8 million tonnes per year. That is perhaps a big if; only one of those is currently under construction; a relatively small plant in Royal Wootton Bassett.

The most recent plan to be announced highlights some of the uncertainties. A new 410,000 tonne per year WtE facility is being mooted by Wheelabrator for Leeds, on the site of the former Skelton Grange power station. But it’s not wholly new. Biffa originally proposed such a plant in 2011, but the project was shelved in 2015. Wheelabrator has increased the size of the plant from Biffa’s proposed 300,000 tonnes, and hopes to reach financial close in 2020.

Where should investors and suppliers look, therefore? It may well be that smaller projects – such as the one in Wootton Bassett – offer a more certain return as investment shifts to the riskier private sector. If this trend continues it may well be that the UK is heading for a focus on more local and sustainable solutions rather than grand projects which can all too easily fall foul of planning, construction and – perhaps now – greater funding problems.

The map below shows all the currently-planned WtE facilities in the UK, as held in the AcuComm database. How many will make it? Click here to explore them all online.

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#Editor’sPick – WtE Facilities

Russia – WtE Plants

Construction of four WtE plants

Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) and PJSC ZiO-Podolsk have signed an agreement which will see them construct four waste-to-energy (WtE) plants in Moscow.

It is understood that HZI will be taking on the supply of technology and PJSC ZiO-Podolsk will be delivering manufacturing services for the power island equipment.

Catch up on the latest from this project.

UK – WtE Facility

Construction of a 350,000 tpa WtE facility

Fortum Glasgow, a joint venture between Fortum Oyj and Verus Energy, has acquired the South Clyde Energy Centre. The site has planning permission for a 350,000 tpa capacity WtE plant, which was originally granted consent back in 2012.

The facility will divert waste from landfill and process it to generate electricity and heat. Work could start as early as 2020 if plans go ahead.

Find out more about this project.