Market outlook for the RDF industry
The RDF Industry Group has already made an enormous contribution to carbon savings and is now seizing new opportunities to further decarbonise residual waste treatment. Originally, the Group’s focus centred on the production and shipment of refuse derived fuel (RDF) from the United Kingdom (UK) and the Republic of Ireland to Energy-from-Waste (EfW) facilities in mainland Europe. As a consequence of developments within the RDF supply chain, the Group has now shifted its focus to decarbonising the RDF supply chain across Europe.
In Europe, 188 million tonnes of waste are still sent to landfill annually, leading to over 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Members of the RDF Industry Group are committed to diverting residual waste from landfill through the production of quality fuels for use in EfW plants and cement kilns across Europe.
Developments in pre-treatment
RDF producers have always been recognised for producing quality fuels from waste that meet the requirements specified by offtake facilities (such as EfW plants). Whilst waste destined for landfill is frequently not pre-treated, RDF producers remove metals and other valuable materials from waste for recycling. In Europe, the waste management industry is facing increasing regulations to support the delivery of recycling targets. The European Union’s (EU) plastic tax, the UK’s plastic tax, carbon taxes across the chemical industry, the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, and more generous Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes all illustrate the business case for increasing the pre-treatment of residual waste and, in particular, the recycling of plastics. Therefore, the pre-treatment capabilities of RDF producers offer ample opportunities to aid the achievement of both climate goals and recycling targets.
Due to the existing movement of residual waste through their facilities, RDF producers are well positioned to seize opportunities to decarbonise waste supplies through pre-treatment. The RDF Industry Group also possesses members with the necessary expertise to undertake effective sampling of waste quality and carbon content. Operators who decide to send residual waste directly to landfill or EfW plants without pre-treatment will face an increased challenge in making the necessary shift towards decarbonisation.
RDF Industry Group members are known for determining and utilising the most efficient RDF transport routes. Whilst some people assume that the transport of waste over long distances is detrimental to climate change, multiple climate studies indicate that the CO2 emissions from transporting waste are negligible compared to the CO2 savings achieved from diverting waste from landfill to EfW facilities. Moreover, waste is frequently transported in return transport that otherwise would be empty. Considering that between one quarter and one third of all trucks leaving the UK are empty, it makes logical sense to utilise these trucks to facilitate the transport of waste away from landfill into EfW plants and cement kilns in other European countries.
The EfW plants operated by members of the RDF Industry Group are the best within Europe. All plants combine heat and power production (CHP), making them very energy efficient. In Europe, the transition to a low carbon energy mix is a challenge – particularly in terms of producing sustainable heat for industries and housing. However, CE Delft calculated that the heat produced by an EfW plant reduces CO2 emissions by 60% compared to using natural gas. Therefore, the import of RDF to EfW plants significantly contributes to carbon savings. The research organisation TNO calculated that imports of RDF into the Netherlands save 937,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Cement kilns also have the potential to realise enormous carbon savings through replacing petroleum coke and coal with high quality waste-derived fuels such as solid recovered fuel (SRF). These contributions to carbon savings will grow as the plastic content of waste-derived fuels declines in the future.
Within EfW plants, there is continual innovation. Some RDF Industry Group members have already installed CO2 capture installations whilst others have invested in additional pre-treatment plants to recycle more plastic. Therefore, it is expected that the RDF supply chain will continue to decarbonise waste supplies going forward.
It is extraordinary that some national governments have implemented taxes on waste and/or carbon emissions from EfW plants. By making RDF trade less economically attractive, more waste will be diverted away from EfW to landfill – increasing European-wide carbon emissions. The only way to achieve Europe’s climate goals is for nations to collaborate and utilise each other’s waste management capabilities in an optimal way.
The RDF Industry Group’s evidence-based approach
The RDF Industry Group is dedicated to the aim of further decarbonsing waste management. Through representing all steps in the RDF supply chain and having a broad scope across the whole of Europe, the Group is well equipped to deliver this aim. Going forwards, the Group will continue to work with policy makers, providing them with evidence regarding which policies aid the decrease of carbon emissions. In 2021, the Group is joining other European industry associations – including FEAD, CEWEP and DWMA – in a study undertaken by the research institute Prognos AG (supported by CE Delft) which will research the carbon savings realised from moving different waste streams up the waste hierarchy. This study will quantify the contribution of the RDF supply chain across Europe to achieving Europe’s climate goals by keeping waste out of landfill. The study will also model the carbon savings in waste treatment based on future scenarios for 2035.
As we can see, the opportunities for our Group to further decarbonise are numerous. We are proud of this and we get energy from it!
RDF Industry Group Chair