Why have particular technologies been selected overseas?
Technology is currently available to deal with most waste materials and convert them to useful materials, energy, or to detoxify them so they can go to landfill. There are a variety of reasons why such technology might be used in one place, and not another. Often they relate to regulatory or cost drivers, or absolute shortages of landfill space but other influencing factors include institutionalised inertia or cultural reasons34, rather than a desire to embrace new technology for its own sake.
In Germany, the high diversion from landfill is a result of a combination of advanced collection systems and technologies, which have been put in place because of the German TASi regulation.
This regulation requires all waste to be treated prior to landfilling, and for high calorific waste to be extracted for energy production, and biologically active waste to be stabilised for landfill disposal. Agricultural use of the composted or digested materials from mixed waste processing is not permitted by law.
In this case, the technology selection is a function of the technical requirements, more than any other factor. When the TASi regulation was introduced, incineration technology was widely adopted as it would most easily meet the criteria. However, there was a community backlash against incineration, and as a result, MBT (mechanical biological treatment) was promoted as an alternative. Thus there are now about 76 MBT plants in Germany. Many anaerobic digestion plants exist because of the energy benefits of such plants (they are net energy exporters and there are schemes in place that provide financial incentives to generate electricity from renewable sources ).
In France there is a different view about the material produced by composting. The French believe that the material produced from mixed waste composting can be refined to the extent that it is suitable for use in agriculture. Hence there are many plants that use rotating drums to do the initial bag opening and sorting of the waste, then compost and refine the residual materials.
In the UK, the view of the authorities is that compost from mixed waste plants should not be used for agricultural purposes, and this has guided the technology selection accordingly.
England’s household recycling rate was just 10% 1999-2000, one of the lowest in Europe. To deal with this, the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Fund (NWMRF) was established to assist recycling and waste initiatives through local authorities and help them deliver their legal obligations to increase recycling. It was hoped that this approach would both reduce waste generation and break reliance on landfill as a disposal method.
In 2002 local councils in England (not including London Councils) submitted bids to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for a share of the fund to help them meet their targets for 2003-2004 and 2005-2006. A proportion of the fund, known as the London Recycling Fund (LRF), had already been quarantined for London councils. The LRF was distributed for the same strategic objectives as the rest of the NWMRF and its allocation administered jointly by the Greater London Authority, the Association of London Government and London Waste Action.
More recently the LRF has been decoupled from the NWMRF, renamed the London Waste and Recycling Fund and will be administered by a new London Waste and Recycling Board.
The fund, at £140 million (approximately A$288 million), was not big enough to distribute equally among all 400 local authorities so a challenge approach over three rounds was adopted and priority given to areas where a large turnaround in performance was needed. Bids for funding were judged by an expert panel and some grants had conditions attached, such as spending or facility operation deadlines.
In the first round, £42.4m (approximately A$87 million) was allocated to councils outside London and £7.6m (approximately A$15.6 million) to London authorities. Almost half the funding (47%) was allocated to turnaround low performers (many by extending kerbside and household recycling and green waste collections), 30% to partnership projects, with the balance split among high performance, innovation and best practice, general projects and developing community initiatives. Subsequent rounds distributed £76.3 (approximately A$157 million) million and £135m (approximately A$277 million).
The partnership projects referred to above were projects in involving more than one local authority, such as council groups co-operating in a joint kerbside collection and processing system. These Partnership Projects were eligible for up to £5m (approximately A$10.2 million) each of funding.
Other sources of Local Authority Funding include the Waste Infrastructure Capital Grant which is also administered by DEFRA. This is an ‘un-ringfenced’ capital grant, that’s is, it has no conditions or strings attached, and will be paid to local authorities in recognition of the need to get front-end waste infrastructure, operational in time to help England meet landfill targets imposed by the European Landfill Directive.