Why the Scandinavian EfW operators welcome the reopening of Premier League

COVID-19 creates changes in waste streams across Europe – changes most people are unaware of. The impact on the waste market and industry players has been substantial, but a review of several European countries shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Text: COO at Geminor, Ralf Schöpwinkel

The corona pandemic has had a greater impact on the international community than any previous peace-time crisis. For most players in the waste industry, the COVID-19 was initially a shock to the system, but has gradually evolved in the past three months. Now, most professionals in the industry are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

For Geminor, which contributes to material recycling and energy recovery in collaboration with industry players at both ends of the value chain, COVID-19 has offered some exciting times. With offices in nine countries, we have witnessed the development of COVID-19 up close in most of Europe. The development has now brought us to what we might call “phase 2”: We are approaching a normalization where preparedness and continuity of supply appear to be more important than ever.

Fall in waste volumes
In general, Corona has led to a significant decline in waste volumes which has been most evident within industrial waste. Here we have observed reductions in some markets of up to 60 per cent waste. Over time, this has also led to a decline in waste fuels and thereby an uncertainty for many of the major offtakers, especially in Scandinavia. This trend was reversed in early May, and several countries in Europe are now gradually reopening and more people are returning to their jobs. This leads to the slow return of industrial waste into the market.

COO at Geminor, Ralf Schöpwinkel.

Household waste has been stable, but to some extent also increasing by up to 10 to 15 per cent in some countries. Curfew situation in many countries has increased the consumption of grocery products and thus the amount of waste, although this has not been able to compensate for the loss of industrial waste, which normally accounts for around 50 per cent of total volumes.

Decline in material recycling
A consequence of COVID-19 has been that waste sorted for material recycling has in part been used for energy recovery. The reason for this is complex, consisting of elements such as lower production and demand, less capacity for sorting and a negative effect through pricing. Especially plastic waste has been a hot topic, as larger volumes than usual have gone to energy recovery. We expect these market trends to change as more waste companies return to normal operation and higher industry activity triggers demand for recycled materials.

In the panelboard and paper markets, prices fell sharply ahead of the Corona crisis. The prices have later increased, in part due to the lack of recycled paper in Europe. But this market is now about to normalize – a trend which is shared within waste wood fractions. The big question now is how long time the European and global economy will need to get back to the starting point.

National differences
The United Kingdom has not only been affected by citizens falling ill to the disease – the waste industry has also suffered a blow as a result of the Corona situation. Large volumes of waste coming from the service industry and events such as restaurants, theater, musicals, pubs and football matches are still dramatically reduced. This has contributed to reducing waste normally used for energy recovery by between 4 and 5 million tonnes.
When sports events such as major matches in the Premier League are not arranged, this has a direct impact on the availability of waste fuels utilized in energy recovery in Scandinavia. These are consequences that few of us reflected on before COVID-19 hit society at full speed.

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Approaching normal
As far as Norway is concerned, we are now almost back to normal operations around household waste and collection stations. However, industry waste players report challenging situations with reduced incoming volumes and increased competition, but the effects are smaller than those reported in the UK.
Imports of UK waste to Norwegian incineration plants have been under pressure during the corona pandemic. This is partly due to the increased UK capacity that has been building up in recent years. Strongly fluctuating exchange rates also have an impact on imports into Norway.

Sweden introduced a combustion tax of SEK 75 from 1. April 2020, which has not been a popular initiative in an already troubled market. Smaller volumes from the UK, Ireland and Norway makes alternative waste markets more important than ever before: Italy, France and Poland are countries that are compensating and securing deliveries to the Nordics.

Finland, for its part, has apparently recovered well and we have managed to increase quantities from Finland to Sweden in March, April and May. Stocks are now largely depleted and we expect volumes to normalize over the summer and autumn. A new incineration plant will open in the town of Salo later this year, demanding a big part of the local waste volume.  The current export to Estonia and Sweden will continue, but now containing more industrial waste.

The COVID-19 consequences have been minimal for Danish imports, also because Denmark has diversified imports with deliveries from both the UK, Ireland, Germany and Italy. In Germany, industrial waste quantities have gradually returned, and prices have remained unchanged. During the entire period, Geminor has managed to maintain necessary volumes for export.

The relatively new Geminor offices in Italy and France have been busy from day one of the COVID-19. Several projects in both countries are under development and we expect to start delivering waste wood, SRF and RDF shortly. Both countries constitute surplus markets that still deposit relatively large volumes of waste. By exporting their waste, these countries will contribute in solving waste challenges in a Europe that is gradually returning to normal.

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