Since 2011, the quantity of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) being exported from the UK has seen an almost
500% increase in tonnes, from 0.2 million tonnes in 2011 to 1.6 million tonnes in
2013 (based on Agency figures). The largest proportion of this growth was seen between
2011 and 2012, as a result of the production of RDF for export becoming more economically
attractive than landfill. Changes in UK landfill tax rules meant landfill ‘Top fluff
layer’ became subject to the full rate of landfill tax, along with recycling by-products
such as trommel fines (inert material). This coupled with the undercutting of landfill
costs by companies abroad sourcing material to feed their plants, is believed to
have contributed towards the large increase in RDF production over the past 1-2
So what does this mean?
RDF production provides an outlet for our currently un-commercially
recyclable plastics such as PVC and laminates and helps deal with contaminated material.
However, no segregation beyond initial stage (household/MRF) occurs, meaning that
some recyclable materials including plastic bottles may be going into RDF production.
Some might say it is a disincentive to increasing recycling rates and provides alternative
outlets for low grade material that may otherwise have been recycled. It will be
interesting to see whether this figure rises again in 2014; if so, will it make
it harder for the UK to meet its recycling targets? However in the meantime and
going forward, it’s important that the public are educated on what should and shouldn’t
go in black bin bags. Why shouldn’t increasing recycling rates and increasing RDF
exports go hand-in-hand?