The local impact of Energy from Waste

Highlighting the benefits EfW can bring to communities should be a key part of the process, explains Paco Hevia, MD of waste treatment at Amey.

The local impact of Energy from Waste

Recovering energy from waste is increasingly important in the absence of other deliverable alternatives to landfill - as well, of course, as encouraging recycling and reducing waste production in the first place.

The desirability of more UK-based Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities is particularly clear when we consider that the UK exports around 3m tonnes of residual waste to Europe per year, where it is used to power district heating networks.

We even buy some of the resulting green electrons back through the National Grid’s interconnectors, effectively paying twice for the privilege.

Additionally, the benefits of EfW are numerous and go beyond the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon emissions. Not only is the intergenerational impact of supporting local supply chains very significant, the social, environmental, and economic benefits of supplying de-carbonised heat to local users are considerable.

Most planning processes for new EfW capacity get entangled in national policy and regulatory issues rather than just focusing on local impacts. However, the local impact of a project – including a proposed facility’s benefits – should be the focus, however much developers struggle to put it at the forefront of discussion.

Widespread impact

The local economic benefits of developing more EfW facilities in the UK is something Amey is very conscious of. For example, Cambridge Econometrics studied the potential impact of Amey’s proposed Waterbeach Waste Management Park EfW and found that the facility would deliver substantial economic benefits.

These included:£45m in Gross Value Added (GVA) within the local area, over 870 construction jobs and 48 new roles in non-construction in South Cambridgeshire and an addition of 10% to the Park’s existing GVA of £27m per year.

"Most planning processes for new EfW capacity get entangled in national policy and regulatory issues rather than just focusing on local impacts."

These economic benefits are in addition to the environmental and social benefits of constructing the facility, which include reducing CO2 emissions by 35,000 tonnes per year compared to landfill, generating enough electricity to power 63,000 homes and enabling Cambridgeshire to continue to be self-sufficient and sustainable in the treatment of its domestic waste. There is also potential for a district heating network for new nearby homes.

Because Cambridgeshire’s waste is already transported to the Waste Management Park for processing and treatment, the benefits of the EfW will be delivered with minimal additional vehicle movements. This is in stark contrast to the practice of sending waste to Europe to be converted into energy, which increases carbon emissions.

Amey believes the only way to maximise the benefits of EfW facilities is to engage with local businesses. It therefore held a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event in partnership with Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce and South Cambridgeshire District Council in September.

The event was attended by over 45 local businesses, with participants benefiting from one-to-ones with Amey personnel and the chance to discuss opportunities for working with both the company and our partners on the issue of sustainable energy and waste management infrastructure.

The event led to immediate follow-ups with half a dozen local businesses, with a view to working together as soon as possible.

Wider social value

There is also a wider social value to constructing and operating EfW and other environmentally-minded waste processing facilities.

Beyond its waste treatment facilities in North Yorkshire, Milton Keynes, the Isle of Wight, and Cambridgeshire, Amey’s socially-minded agenda is evident in our award-winning support for Recycling Lives.

"Ex-offenders have the opportunity to develop vital skills for working in the waste industry." 

Through the initiative, 1700 tonnes of waste materials are recycled every year, plus providing ex-offenders the opportunity to develop vital skills for working in the waste industry, where they may later seek careers.

In particular, the partnership between Amey, Recycling Lives, and HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire has led to the establishment of a dedicated recycling academy for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) within prison grounds. Up to 40 offenders at any given time are being trained for work in the recycling industry.

Developing heat networks

Amey is also committed to having its waste management facilities support local heat opportunities, which greatly benefit local communities.

It is currently evaluating opportunities on the Isle of Wight and in Cambridgeshire, both of which are hugely promising not only from an economic perspective, but also to improve the efficiency of EfW facilities, deliver affordable and reliable energy and demonstrate to communities the value of taking responsibility for their waste.

Tackling fuel poverty is a hugely important task and is only going to become more challenging for the next generation of houses given the government’s announcement that gas heating will be banned for new homes by 2025.

Sources of affordable, sustainable and low carbon heat will therefore be essential, presenting a real opportunity to ensure new homes do not result in yet more families facing the prospect of fuel poverty and its consequential social and economic costs.

The underlying need

We must not lose sight of the clear need for a greater sustainable waste treatment capacity in the UK to serve both the wider UK economy and the local communities in which facilities are located.

Establishing more EfWs and other eco-friendly waste treatment facilities will boost the economy, strengthen local communities and positively impact the environment.

Protecting and restoring the environment is more urgent than ever, and it requires an investment in new infrastructure. In the past, Defra’s position has been that the target diversion of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) will mean the uK has sufficient treatment capacity. Yet surely it is now time to look beyond the Landfill Directive targets of 65% BMW diversion by 2020.

Amey is responding to these challenges by proposing a project in Waterbeach that directly addresses need. There are obvious social, economic and environmental benefits for the local community, county, country, and beyond.

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