Comment: Black bag waste has silver lining

Black bag waste has silver lining for savvy nations, says David Hamilton

So, with such demanding targets of our own, why arent we utilising our own RDF? Picture: TSPL
So, with such demanding targets of our own, why arent we utilising our own RDF? Picture: TSPL

With its own zero waste targets looming, you’d think that the Scottish Government would be maximising every chance to meet these challenging goals – but no, not so.

There’s one such opportunity which is being frustratingly overlooked, leaving export as the only solution.

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RDF (refuse derived fuel) is currently produced at several waste treatment sites in Scotland by processing material left over from household black bag waste after recyclables have been removed. This waste, normally destined for landfill, is shredded, dried and then formed into bales, pellets, fibre or powder which can then be used to produce energy and heat.

But, instead of us making use of this valuable resource and closing the energy loop in our own country, we are instead exporting it in increasing quantities to countries such as Sweden and Germany, with final export figures for 2014 expected to rise to 130,000 tonnes from 32,000 tonnes in 2013 (source: MRW/AMEC). These countries are using Scottish RDF as both a feedstock for their Energy from Waste (EfW) plants, and a method to meet their own sustainability targets.

So, with such demanding targets of our own, why aren’t we utilising our own RDF? In short, the sad fact is that producers currently have no option but to export because Scotland doesn’t have the viable EfW plant infrastructure to process this valuable commodity.

Developing this infrastructure through high quality EfW plants – which not only produce electricity, but also harness the valuable heat created in the process – could seriously benefit households across Scotland. For example, 850,000 tonnes of RDF can produce up to 100MW of electricity and up to 80MW of heat. Food for thought, especially when you consider that a 100MW power station typically produces enough energy to meet the annual needs of more than 56,000 households. And we wouldn’t just gain in terms of renewable energy and waste targets – developing RDF-friendly EfW plants would result in the creation of thousands of Scottish jobs.

The Scottish government urgently needs to maximise energy from waste opportun-
ities on our doorsteps.

•David Hamilton is managing director of Edinburgh-based Hamilton Waste and Recycling