Why waste should never be wasted – Tim Rotheray

Rubbish that cannot be recycled should be used to create energy, writes Tim Rotheray of Viridor.

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 12:30 pm
As little as possible should end up as landfill waste
As little as possible should end up as landfill waste

Absolutely nothing should go to waste. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to disagree with this very simple concept. And it is that simplicity which is the foundation of the circular economy. Everything we use should be designed for reuse, reducing our reliance on virgin materials which are associated with energy-intensive processes.

In many ways this reuse is already a reality. Viridor, one of the UK’s biggest recycling companies, collects plastics and glass bottles and reprocesses them to produce a new raw material. This in turn can be used to create new bottles made from recycled material which will then find their way to supermarket shelves.

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To appreciate the challenge we face, we only have to look at our own homes and, more specifically, our bins. We can then appreciate that, while the will to embrace this new green economy is there, and millions have been invested in recycling infrastructure, we are still left with waste which can’t be recycled. Simply put, not everything is currently designed to be recycled.

Non-recyclable waste cannot be ignored. We have to find a way to use it to benefit society. And this is how energy recovery differs from incineration. Incineration consumes waste without producing anything of value. Energy recovery offers the ability to generate heat and power from non-recyclable waste. And, with the focus on landfill diversion, and a Scottish landfill ban being introduced in 2025, energy recovery is the regulated technology most favoured.

Companies like Viridor have invested in both recycling and energy recovery over recent years. Providing a holistic waste management solution has demonstrated that energy recovery need not and has not detracted from our recycling operations and can play a role in powering the circular economy.

The proof really is in the investment, such as the Viridor residual materials recycling facility at Bargeddie in North Lanarkshire. The plant receives waste as part of a 190,000-tonne contract with five Scottish councils. Recyclable material can be extracted, and the remaining non-recyclable material is transferred to Viridor’s Dunbar energy recovery facility.

At Dunbar, the £177m energy recovery facility diverts about 300,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste from landfill. It generates 258GWh of low-carbon energy direct to the National Grid – enough to continuously power the equivalent of 70,656 homes.

The Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre (GRREC) at Polmadie annually diverts more than 200,000 tonnes of the city’s waste from landfill while generating enough electricity to power 26,496 homes. But, in keeping with the focus on recycling, the GRREC also has the ability to extract recyclable material from general waste and boost Glasgow’s overall recycling rates, diverting 90 per cent of all council waste from landfill.

Looking to the future, Viridor has signalled to the Scottish Government that it wishes to be an infrastructure partner to help Scotland achieve its circular economy goals. The company has plans to use the heat and power generated by non-recyclable waste at Dunbar to power a new plastic reprocessing plant there. We are currently preparing a planning application for East Lothian Council.

We are not complacent. The sector has a key role to play to meet our net-zero commitments and we are actively working on projects to drive carbon out. This is an area where, like recycling, Government and industry need to work together to ensure we drive down carbon.

Tim Rotheray is innovation and regulation director at Viridor

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