Harnessing waste as a valuable energy source

Article posted on 03.12.2020

Harnessing waste as a valuable energy source

Another case of illegal waste exporting recently hit the headlines – this time in Sri Lanka, where 21 containers were shipped back to the UK after discovering they were filled with hazardous materials, including hospital waste.

Our MD, Simon Webb, shared his thoughts with MRW on why we’re continuing to ship our ‘resources’ overseas and where the true responsibility lies. If you missed the original article, catch up below…

Setting a good example

It seems that every other month the waste and recycling industry is hitting the national headlines – and, unfortunately, not for positive reasons.

Reading about UK waste management companies’ illicit waste exports isn’t just maddening to those industry professionals who are driving positive environmental change in an ethical and compliant manner, it’s bewildering too.

Why is this kind of activity still happening?

Sadly, this often boils down to either economics or blatant ignorance – or a toxic mixture of the two.

For wastes which are difficult or expensive to dispose of in the UK, some firms immediately look overseas for a solution – hoping the reprocessors in other countries either won’t notice or don’t care if the commodities sent are different from those listed.

This is neither acceptable nor sustainable.

It’s our responsibility to compliantly process our own wastes, in order to reap the ethical, environmental and financial benefits. And everyone needs to remember that we’re not shipping ‘waste’ out of the country, rather a valuable energy source for other nations to use – which doesn’t make any sense.

As a first-world country, we should be leading the way when it comes to best practice, not flouting the regulations. We’re also still a part of Europe – which has some of the strictest waste policies – so there’s simply no excuse for this behaviour.

Missing the bigger opportunity

The UK isn’t ready – and hasn’t been for a long time – capacity-wise, to manage high volumes of non-recyclable wastes. Therefore, more time needs to be spent developing home-grown facilities that can process these materials for the same price as overseas counterparts, so that less businesses contemplate exportation.

By keeping and treating waste in the country of origin, we’d be able to implement more decentralised energy recovery facilities. A solution which would not only reduce our carbon footprint – minimising waste transportation – but also allow us to utilise end-of-life materials sustainably, to generate power locally.

Regarding the future, there will undoubtedly be more countries that follow in China’s footsteps by banning waste imports, so it’s time we did something about the root cause of the issue.

If we’re going to close the loop, we need to boost our national infrastructure and introduce tougher penalties for rule-breakers – only then will we be able to reduce illegal exports and harness our wastes for what they really are, a valuable energy source.

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