Attractive waste import

Date: June; 25; 2014 | Author:
Return to news list

Free capacity at Danish plants. In the UK, millions of tons of waste are sent to costly landfills. Market pressure has waste moving across the borders from the UK to Denmark, where the waste's energy is utilized 100 percent.

Does it make sense to import waste from the UK for treatment at Danish plants?

The question is not unusual for Mads Prag Roesen, who responds without hesitation:

"Yes, it makes just as much sense as importing wood pellets from Canada, coal from South Africa, or oil from Saudi Arabia. Perhaps even more sense, as we utilize the waste's energy 100 percent in the Danish waste-to-energy plants, which produce both electricity and district heating. The British waste-to-energy plants cannot do this, because they can't sell the heat on to a district heating system," says Mads Prag Roesen, partner in Combineering, which helps plants with both contracts and the many practical aspects of waste import.

CO2-savings on every ton

Considering the packaging of the waste and the lengthy dispatch time on trucks and ships, it might seem like a disproportionately large consumption of fossil fuels in order to get the CO2-neutral fuel to the Danish waste-to-energy plants. Why can't the British get rid of their waste themselves properly, and how can Danish energy suppliers justify this import? 

Mads Prag Roesen is pleased to be asked this question, as he has several answers: Firstly, we also import wood pellets and woodchips from far away. Secondly, we don't think twice about trading in all kinds of products, which are shipped and affect the environment in both the exporting and importing countries; and thirdly, he says:

"A life cycle analysis shows net savings of 200-400 kg CO2 for every imported ton of waste in comparison with coal. Based on this, on a European level it would be coal that is being forced out of the system when waste is brought in."

Cheapest and best solution

Mads Prag Roesen knows the driving forces on the waste market as he sees the advantages for the different parties. He explains it thus:

Waste import is a good idea for Danish plants, because there is free capacity and an obligation to supply energy, and because the plants are the absolute best at treating waste and can utilize the energy fully.

Waste import is a good idea for the British shareholders, because this is a much more environmentally responsible handling of sorted waste than landfill, which is an expensive and poor solution.

"It's cheaper for the British players than the alternatives. It would not happen otherwise, and the UK does not have treatment capacity itself for all its waste," says Mads Prag Roesen, in reference to the 20 million tons of waste that were disposed of in UK landfills in 2011. The figure has since fallen, due in part to waste exports to Denmark, Holland, Sweden, and Norway.

Masses of British waste for export

In 2011, the UK exported 300,000 tons of waste. In 2012, the figure increased to 900,000 tons, and in 2013, waste exports had reached up to 1.5 million tons. Of this, Denmark imported roughly 200,000 tons. According to Mads Prag Roesen, the Danish waste import will increase over the coming years, as more and more opt to fill their plants up with imported waste. This will mean, however, that the pressure on the UK waste producers will diminish somewhat. On the other hand, the tariffs for waste disposal in the UK have risen, just as it has become easier for publicly-owned plants to provide a guarantee. This means that waste export will continue to be an attractive solution for UK producers.

"My assessment is that there is more waste in the UK than we have capacity for in Denmark," concludes Mads Prag Roesen.

The price

The price for the UK producers is roughly DKK 500-600 per ton. Half of this goes to transport, while the Danish plants can expect to get DKK 200-300 per ton, even after any fees for help with the transactions from Combineering.

The price goes up and down according to season, the quality of the waste, as well as whether the plants can accept waste all-year-round or only during wintertime, and their willingness to take a financial risk, e.g., whether they opt for a fixed price.

DONG is one of the companies that has been importing waste for years. In addition, there are currently a handful of other Danish plants that import waste from the UK.

Three good tips for waste import

Mads Prag Roesen has the following pieces of advice to plants that would like to import waste:

  1. Get help: There are many things to manage in terms of legislation, contracts and practical aspects, e.g., local regulations in the UK and different countries' interpretation of the EU's transportation ordinance. Combineering can handle these tasks with 'half a man' instead of the plant having to set aside one or two men over a long period to deal with all of it. Combineering charges per ton based on the principle of 'no cure, no pay'.
  2. Start in good time: It takes six months from idea to waste at the plant. It takes a long time to find producers, write contracts, get permits in the UK and Denmark, and to collect all the data required for documentation. For example, it is too late to get started after the summer vacation for there to be fuel from waste import in the plant in winter 2014/2015.
  3. Be realistic: Adjust expectations to reality, e.g., there should be a correlation between finances and quality, just as it does not pay to push down prices more than the producer can stand. Then you simply run the risk that there won't be any waste, even if a contract has been signed.

Waste exports from the UK

  • In 2013, the UK exported 1.5 million tons of waste.
  • Of this, 8 percent went to Denmark, 7 percent to Sweden, 11 percent to Germany, and the rest to the Netherlands, which has the advantage of cheap transport in the trucks' return trip from the UK to the Netherlands.

Waste treatment in the UK

  • All waste is driven to material recycling facilities, which sort the waste into metal, paper/cardboard and compost. The rest is disposed of in landfills or treated/exported for treatment.
  • In 2011, waste to landfills amounted to approximately 20 million tons. The figure has since dropped to approximately 17 million tons.
  • In 2020, the amount of waste disposed of in landfills is expected to have dropped to approximately 10 million tons.
  • At that point, UK waste will be broken down into 1/3 export, 1/3 treatment, and 1/3 sorted.

Quality of imported waste

  • '19 12 10' is the code for RDF; refuse-derived fuel. The quality of waste in the RDF category can be everything from finely shredded paper and plastic of so-called 'cement quality', which can be blown into a rotary kiln and replace coal dust with a calorific value of 20-30 MJ, to waste with a 40 percent water content, which consists of so-called 'waste juice' and has an extremely low calorific value. 


Return to news list