A chance to drive hazardous waste policy

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The proliferation of energy-from-waste (EfW) power plants is making a significant contribution to the UK’s efforts to end its reliance on harmful fossil fuels. But while EfW plants provide a solution to municipal waste, they also produce a low amount of hazardous waste in the form of air pollution control residue (APCr). Despite numerous solutions existing that process and reuse APCr effectively, most is sent to landfill.

APCr levels are rising and necessarily so. EfW has a key role to play in the UK’s energy mix, and provides a productive use for millions of tonnes of municipal waste each year. It is therefore positive that more plants are coming online.

Typically, 2-5% of the mass of waste incinerated becomes APCr. Currently around 300,000 tonnes is generated annually, but the figure is expected to rise to 500,000 tonnes in the next four or five years, making APCr one of the UK’s fastest growing hazardous waste streams. So we need a long-term sustainable solution to process it.

APCr is classified as an absolute hazardous waste in the European Waste Catalogue because of its high alkalinity, which is caused by the addition of scrubbing agents such as lime to the abatement process. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment solutions, many of which have been developed here in the UK. But most of our APCr is sent to landfill – why?

The EU’s 2008 Waste Directive set out stringent waste acceptance criteria intended to make this harmful practice illegal. However, at the time, there was a widespread view in Whitehall and the industry that there was no alternative, so the Government introduced so-called 3xWAC derogations. These allow designated landfill sites to accept waste with up to three times the permitted waste acceptance criteria (WAC) limits for specific waste parameters set by the Directive.

It was intended to be a temporary solution and, since 2008, numerous Government papers have committed to removing 3xWAC, but they remain in place today.

The most promising move came in 2014 when the Environment Agency announced a consultation into WAC derogations with the intention of removing them. But it was soondeemed that removing them was more complex than initially thought, and Defra launched a review. This is understandable. Even in the waste industry, WAC derogations are a niche subject. In particular, there was a lack of understanding of landfill alternatives.

Two years later, Defra’s decision is expected imminently, and it presents one of the biggest opportunities to drive forward hazardous waste policy, set a precedent and support a vision I think we all share: for a future where waste is not needlessly landfilled.

Tetronics’ technology, for example, uses plasma – essentially synthetic lightning – to treat APCr thermally, transforming it into a glass-like material. This is classified as inert and is safe for use in commercial applications such as a building aggregate.

In the past, landfill was often the cheaper option, but companies like ours have invested in research and development to bring costs down and compete with, or even beat, landfill fees. Given the delays with a decision about WAC derogations, many waste managers have understandably delayed investment decisions until they have a clearer picture of what will happen. If WAC derogations are removed, it will unlock significant investment and give a massive boost to the industry.

As well as the economic effect, the environmental benefits would be huge. With the infrastructure in place, an estimated half a million tonnes of hazardous waste could be diverted from landfill or long-term storage in salt mines every year. Vast amounts of harmful toxins would be removed from our environment.

The move would also improve the image of the EfW industry, which has come under criticism. By sending no waste to landfill and putting APCr to use as a source of recoverable materials, EfW plants can truly say they are an essential cog in the circular economy.

Industry has been consulted and delivered its case to Defra, which must now make a decision that could be a step backwards by allowing WAC derogations to continue – or transform our industry and take the UK closer to a future where waste is not needlessly landfilled.

Graeme Rumbol is chief executive of Tetronics International

Click here to read the full article from MRW magazine

Have your say!

5 comments on “A chance to drive hazardous waste policy”

  1. Thanks for your information concerning this the problematic fly ash and fortunately we are facing the same problem here in Vietnam as more and more coal fired power plants will be built to meet with shortage of electricity. Estimatedly 10 millions MT of fly ash will be generated annually now subject to land fill.
    We are developing the geopolymer technology to convert these fly ash ( F and C class) into the green Cementious inorganic binder for concrete, brick, mortar, stone manufacturing by cold process with zero emission. The research project is well underway and we are going to register the intelectual property right for start up the business. The key question here is the supply capacity of huge amount of Sodium silicate for activating the polymerization and solidification of fly ash. We are studying the possibility of producing Sodium silicate from rice husk by gasification of rice husk by fusing caustic soda and rice husk using the internal heat to kick off the chemical reaction inside the reactor.
    I know that Techtronic is very famous for plasmar technology but it is very costly to vitrify large quantity of fly ash so it shall be cheaper to convert fly ash to cement. I think if you are interested we can cooperate with you to Handle this project. However I would like to know the fee for fly ash treatment in UK and whether U.K. Is accepting the new Geopolymer material that we can find market for these product to cover the expenses.
    We are looking forwards to hear from you and also very interested in your technology for Vietnam waste treatment too.
    With my best regards.

    Pham Văn Hưng
    President and CEO /
    Dong Xuan Refining Technology Services Limited.
    42 Rd 12, Binh an Ward, district 2, HCM city, Vietnam
    M. +84 903807195.

  2. Pham van Hung on October 5th, 2016 at 1:04 pm
  3. I think the problem you are raising should get the maximum attention from authorities and goverments and your technology should be thoroughly evaluated by independent institutions in all its technical and economic aspects including the location and capability of salt mines.

    Gian Paolo Quadri
    Chemical engineer

  4. Gian Paolo Quadri on October 5th, 2016 at 1:13 pm
  5. All the toxic stuff that is produced as the result of burning coal can be found in coal ash. It’s been a very long time since our lakes, river, streams and oceans have been free of mercury which come compliments of coal ash. And it will continue to be a big problem at least until such time as coal is not used as a fuel.

  6. Robert Hoekstra on October 5th, 2016 at 2:25 pm
  7. As alternative waste to energy plant design engineering consultants our objective is to build plants that separate the green part of common bag waste and convert this to multi-megawatt power. The combustion ash residue is clean – unlike that from whole waste incineration – and is suitable for landfill or manufacture of concrete building blocks etc.,
    As proven by the use of compressed ,pellet fuel made from the paper,cardboard and wood waste and used in the recent past by the Slough – waste to energy power generating plant, x and discharge of clean ash to landfill.
    The waste resource recovery Engineering that separates the combustible elements from other parts of common waste for recycling is well proven technology but rejected by municipal Jobsworths in favour of mass burn incineration.

  8. Anthony Durbin on October 5th, 2016 at 3:38 pm
  9. Hi
    We will be looking for un pullated water in the near futureto drink
    the sea is pullu with plastic farmers are pul the land with slurry
    tyire rubber from roads diesil exaust fuims
    no time at the moment it is time to wake up
    hospitals full of canser patients children and nobody is shouting stop and think why have we no hydro energy plan ?
    best for now frank

  10. Frank Walsh on October 5th, 2016 at 4:34 pm

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