The specialist waste management company, Remsol Ltd, has said that current energy policies are putting recycling jobs and capacity at risk, and is calling for shale gas development to be accelerated alongside greater use of waste in energy generation and more investment in energy storage.
In a policy paper launched today, “Powering the circular economy”, the company points out that recycling waste in the UK consumes a significant amount of energy every year, but questions how this demand will be satisfied in future without the continued use of fossil fuels and access to affordable and reliable electricity around the clock, every day of the year.
Key highlights from the policy paper include:
Recycling as part of a circular economy helps to conserve primary resources, avoids wasteful landfill and makes secondary raw materials available to the rest of industry at competitive prices.
It also lowers energy consumption compared to making crude product from virgin raw materials – the estimated energy used in recycling in 2013 was 21,314 GWh compared to an estimated 58,481 GWh that would have been required to make the same quantity of crude product from primary resources.
Current policy emphasis
Right now, UK energy policy is largely focused on decarbonising the power sector through the increasing deployment of low-carbon wind, wave and solar renewables supported by generous subsidies.
In 2013, wind, wave and solar renewables supplied 30,475 GWh of electricity, up from around 1,000 GWh in 2000.
The limitations of wind, wave and solar renewables
It is unlikely that these energy sources alone can meet the demands of the recycling sector for three principle reasons, the company says, claiming they can’t react to sudden peaks in demand that are a feature of many recycling processes.
Secondly, they only supply electricity whereas many recycling processes rely on gas. And, thirdly, power output can vary significantly and can at times be absent altogether.
Consequences of mis-matched policy
Unless UK energy policy better recognises the need for a diverse range of energy supplies in recycling, there’s a real risk that reprocessing factories will relocate to other countries with lower energy costs and a more favourable policy environment.
For instance, in the last five years, UK primary aluminium production capacity has shrunk by 323,000 tonnes a year as a result of the closure of two large smelting factories, with the owners blaming rising energy costs linked to energy policy. Up to 915 direct jobs were lost, along with thousands more indirectly in the supply chain.
Fuelling the future
Carefully extracted shale gas could play an important role in powering the recycling sector of the circular economy, supplemented by “renewable gas” harvested from landfills and the anaerobic digestion of food and farm waste, the report says.
Lee Petts – “This paper shows how a circular economy built on recycling an increasing quantity of waste requires access to enough of the right kind of energy, where and when it’s needed, around the clock and every day of the year”
More base load electricity could be generated by burning a greater quantity of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) in the UK rather than exporting it to other European countries, at a cost of around £43m a year.
Furthermore, improvements in the ability to store energy will help to overcome the problems associated with intermittent wind, wave and solar renewables generation.
Commenting on the findings of the policy paper, Lee Petts, said: “This paper shows how a circular economy built on recycling an increasing quantity of waste requires access to enough of the right kind of energy, where and when it’s needed, around the clock and every day of the year.
“It’s also clear that, in order to achieve our wider sustainability goals, we need to accept the continuing importance of fossil fuel sources in powering many of our recycling processes.
“The UK has a booming recycling industry. It would be a great shame to see that undermined by well-intentioned but otherwise counter-productive policy choices.”
For full report CLICK HERE