Innovation and technology

Waste recycling, recovery and treatment

Waste from households, commerce and industry comprises a mixture of material types that are capable of being recycled; paper, cardboard, wood, glass, plastics, electrical equipment, metals etc. The range of materials suitable for recycling is increasing as new products are created to be recyclable and new treatment systems are developed that enable more to be recycled.

The benefits of recycling include:

  • Improved resource efficiency; natural resources can be used more efficiently whilst the impact on the environment is reduced.
  • Helps business to cut costs through reduced use of resources and improved operational efficiency, leading to sustainable business practices
  • Reduces the amount of waste generated and sent to landfill
  • Reduces the amount of CO2 emitted and therefore helps mitigate climate change
  • Generates economic growth and creates employment.

It is our view that all waste materials should be recycled whenever it is feasible and economical to do so.

The management of wastes has become more complex over recent years as the process moves from a single “pipeline” of collection, transportation and disposal of waste to landfill, to a complex interplay of segregated and co-mingled wastes, transfer and multiple treatment systems and end markets for energy and resources.

Waste management (Click to open in a new TAB/window)

As new technologies become viable and move from general treatment to be product or material specific, wastes from different sources that were previously separated because of their origin, will be combined and treated together, improving economies of scale and addressing issues of waste "miles", the distance waste has to be moved to find a suitable treatment facility.

To deliver high rates of recycling for the wastes that we manage we have developed a number of waste collection and recycling services that will enable our customers to recycle more of their waste. We are also developing a range of advanced recycling and treatment technologies across the UK. Details of these systems can be found on further pages within this section.

Many of the materials contained in waste are also combustible. These primarily include paper, cardboard, wood, food, and plastics. All of these material types can be recycled and in many situations very high recycling rates can be achieved. The material left over after recycling has been carried out, commonly referred to as residual waste, still contains mixtures of these materials which are either incapable of being recycled i.e. some plastics, or are too badly contaminated to be economically recycled and would be rejected by recyclers/end users of the material.

The most common approach to the management of residual waste is landfill, and over 60M tonnes of waste were managed in this way in the UK in the past 12 months. The landfilling of waste enables former mineral workings to be restored but landfill is also a significant source of greenhouse gasses. A high proportion of this gas can be captured and used to generate renewable electricity but the remainder released to atmosphere contains methane, a greenhouse gas 24x more powerful than carbon dioxide. The UK Government and the EU have sent very strong signals to waste producers that a heavy reliance on landfill is no longer acceptable, especially for biodegradable wastes. The EU has set strict targets for the diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill and the UK Government announced in Budget 2009 that landfill tax would rise to £72 per tonne by 2012/13, a level at which most other forms of waste recycling and recovery are financially viable.

It is our view that after recycling, waste should be used to generate energy. Energy can be recovered from waste through the application of two processes; biological treatment to generate biogas, and thermal treatment to generate energy as either heat, syngas or electricity. There are three key technologies; anaerobic digestion, energy from waste and gasification. Details of some of our current recycling and energy recovery developments can be found by following the links above.