Dutch shutdown is a European wake-up call

A vulnerable European waste market calls for more and smarter treatment and better storage facilities, argues Chief Operating Officer at Geminor, Ralf Schopwinkel.

This summer, the major incineration plant AEB in the Netherlands declared an emergency: 4 out of 6 incineration lines where experiencing problems and had to be shut down temporarily. Being the biggest and one of the most modern plants for district heating and energy production in Europe, a stand-still at AEB introduces complications: Producing city heating for more than 35 000 households around Amsterdam, AEB uses more than 1,4 million tonnes of treated waste fuels annually – most of which is imported. A problem causing a stop in the production of heat may be a minor issue for customers in a warm summer month, but for the European resource management industry, it has proven to be a major headache.

For waste exporting markets – the biggest of these being the UK – reductions in delivery of RDF to the Netherlands creates major issues. This comes not only because of the AEB shutdowns – Dutch authorities have as a consequence decided to decline new TFS applications. Being the biggest importer of RDF in Europe, a reduction in the Dutch import affects not only logistics and a return of waste to landfill, but also the gate fees across Europe.

In addition, the Dutch Government is planning to introduce a tax on imported waste in the effort to protect the domestic market. Sweden is also discussing an incineration tax which most likely will be implemented soon. We expect this will drive prices for recovery of waste upwards. The market may need higher prices to trigger more investments in both new capacity for material recycling, energy recovery and new technologies like chemical recycling.

Hence, one major incineration plant has affected the total market balance in the resource management industry. This affects not only the UK, but also other emerging, waste exporting countries. In times when Asia is reluctant to receiving European waste, countries such as Italy, France and Germany are also struggling to find sufficient recovery solutions for their growing amounts of waste.

The fact that economic growth and increasing consumption is leading to a growing waste problem, may not come as a surprise to many. A study from Cewep (European industry organization for incineration plants) shows that by 2035, as much as 40 million tonnes of MSW waste may end up as landfill across Europe.

If the shutdown at AEB has taught us anything, it must be that Europe needs to take action to reduce vulnerability in the industry. We need a more predictable market based on common interests, goals and legislation. More treatment capacity both for material recycling and for energy recovery will help to achieve this – preventing unnecessary pollution both in Europe and globally.

An important step in preventing waste being landfilled is improving both treatment, logistics and storage of waste. In preparation for more shutdowns similar to the one at AEB, Geminor is presently working to improve our waste treatment services both by offering shredding, baling & wrapping and storing waste in all our markets. Being able to store waste does not solve the problem of overconsumption, but will help us in times of unpredicted market changes. It also helps handling the seasonal imbalances between summer and winter, from a high waste volume in summer to an increased Nordic demand for district heating fuels in winter.

We also need to improve innovation and find new markets for waste fractions. Investing in the development of new fuel types such as pellets and more refined RDF and SRF is central in this effort. An example is Norwegian Quantafuel, a company that converts plastic waste into low emission diesel fuels and NAFTA for production of new polymer – a project in cooperation with Geminor. In similar ways we can utilize more of our waste in better ways – namely as a resource – while we all make an effort to reduce the surplus of household waste.