Lack of hazardous waste incinerators limiting UK industrial capacity

16 June 2023 by CSG

A severe shortage of capacity at UK hazardous waste incinerators is putting a major strain on businesses and could limit the UK’s capacity for economic growth.

That’s the view of Phil Manley, of leading waste management company CSG, who said UK industry could grind to a halt if European countries decided they no longer wanted to accept the country’s hazardous waste.

There are two major hazardous waste incinerators in the UK: in Southampton and Ellesmere Port, both commissioned around 50 years ago. However, with demand high, the waiting list for both facilities is lengthy.

The solution for many businesses is to ship the hazardous waste overseas to places like the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and France.

Phil said while sending waste into Europe is an acceptable means to an end, it is putting British businesses in a precarious position.

“It’s perfectly legal to send waste overseas and they are currently happy to receive it, as they have the capabilities to turn the waste to energy, which is particularly welcome at the moment given the price of fossil fuels and the desire to create energy in different ways,” said Phil. “In the UK, energy-from-waste is domestic only – there is currently no energy-from-waste (EfW) facility for hazardous waste in the UK.

“My biggest concern is that it’s not sustainable. We’re relying on the governments of countries saying they are OK with receiving our hazardous waste. If that suddenly stopped, then a large portion of UK industry would grind to a halt. We are on a knife-edge.”

One major stumbling block to building much-needed hazardous waste incinerators is public perception.

Phil said: “There is very strong resistance within the UK population to have hazardous waste to energy incinerators. The emissions controls are excellent and they have very high standards to meet, but people don’t want them and it’s difficult to get planning permission and an EA permit. Businesses won’t invest £200m in an incinerator if they aren’t sure they’ll get a permit.

“Shipping hazardous waste abroad is an extra cost to UK businesses which could be avoided if we had adequate facilities within our own borders. If you’re making a product then the cost has to be competitive. Other countries with their own hazardous waste incinerators can make things cheaper because they haven’t got these additional costs.

“The current consensus seems to be that the UK economy needs to grow, with the manufacturing sector set to play its part.

“It’s difficult to see how the UK has the extra waste disposal capacity to enable this growth to happen.”

One option for UK businesses is to strip the hazardous element from expired or defective products. This reduces the amount of waste to be shipped abroad, freeing up some extra capacity.

“We have been able to help companies with this and it can help to reduce what is shipped abroad,” added Phil. “This has been achieved, by and large, by hard manual labour to deconstruct items into recyclable parts.

“Take an electric toothbrush, for example, which is normally sold as a cardboard box, a polyester insert, a plastic cask, a plastic outer shell and electronic waste.

“The plastic recyclers don’t want the waste because of the battery, and the electronics recyclers don’t want the waste because of the plastic.

“At CSG, we manually separate the materials so that they can recycled separately and start a new life in the circular economy.”

CSG has received a huge amount of hand gel waste in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The liquid gel is separated from the container before the packaging is recycled within the UK, whilst the gel is blended for fuel or solvent reclamation, an alternative to incineration.

Phil said: “We are continually looking at new ways of separating materials so that they can be used again rather than incinerated. But even if measures like these can help to reduce some of the burden on the current incinerators, waste to energy incineration will remain the only option for many waste streams.

“Manufacturers need to think more about making it easy to deal with their products once they’re finished with. Hand gel packaging, for example, tends to be made from two different types of plastic which are very difficult to separate.

“There is considerable pressure for manufacturers to avoid sending waste to landfill, from both the government and consumers themselves. But unless something is done about the lack of energy-from-waste capacity for industrial wastes, they may ultimately be left with very few options.”

CSG’s in-house ADR transportation network means it is well positioned to collect and transport drums, packages, bulk liquids or intermediate bulk containers nationwide.

Its waste transfer, treatment and recovery centres are positioned in strategic locations across the UK – making any nationwide collection easy.

CSG’s team of consultants work together to create innovative and cost-effective solutions, while ensuring waste is removed and treated safely and compliantly.