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Will growth in refuse-derived fuel impact recycling rates?

Carys White
Feb 06, 2014

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 years.

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?

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