Exploring the state of refuse-derived fuel in the UK

Professionals from across the waste management industry descended on London in November to discuss the latest trends and technologies impacting the refuse-derived fuel (RDF) sector. The annual RDF Conference brought together industry leaders and experts to explore key policy changes, market dynamics, technological innovations, and the future landscape of waste management in the UK and EU.

From advances in waste sorting and pre-treatment, to sustainable waste shipping logistics and the international importing and exporting of waste, the conference covered many of the opportunities and challenges facing the sector.

The UK is reliant on exports to manage its waste, shipping out around 10 million tons of “Green List” waste and another 2.1 million tons of notifiable waste. Experts say, however, that illegal exports result in more than £17 million in environmental and social costs overseas a year and undermine the legitimacy of the waste sector.

Regulatory changes will take effect from April 2025, including ushering in new charges and a ban on plastic exports to non-OECD countries, among other updates. Attendees also discussed the need to view waste incineration not just as a solution for waste disposal but also as a means of energy production, (especially in light of growing concerns over energy security) as well as the latest efforts to decarbonize waste shipments ahead of new regulations under the EU ETS 2024.

Amane Consultant Phoebe Thomas attended the event to learn more about the latest developments.

“Most of my waste experience to date has been focused within the energy-from-waste (EfW) sector, so it was fascinating to learn more about the variety of applications for RDF, including dimethyl ether (DME) within the LPG industry and cement; with ~23% of thermal energy for cement production coming from SRF/RDF currently in the EU,” said Thomas.

“The current ‘market crunch’ is predominantly driven by the looming UK and EU ETS, coinciding with an increase in country self-sufficiency; with ~ 19 EfW plants under construction in the UK between 2023-2027 set to increase capacity to ~20.7Mt.”

“It’s clear the future of RDFs is multifaceted, and the key will be how the industry adapts and scales solutions to cope with the changing regulations and market dynamics; with growing competition for waste feedstock and an unlikely UK export ban, despite great lobbying efforts.”