In a post-Brexit world, what are the issues surrounding the UK waste industry?

In 2015, Biffa’s The Reality Gap report looked at the residual waste treatment capacity gap in the UK. It examined the role of energy from waste, and how it can harness recoverable energy.

This year, The Reality Gap (2017) also focuses on, the impact of landfill and a post-Brexit industry.

The fundamental conclusions around the waste treatment capacity gap haven’t changed. There still exists a persistent shortfall in UK energy recovery capacity.

There has been movement in the residual waste facilities development market. This is due to its dynamic nature. The long-term conclusions of the report remain the same as in 2015. Namely, that commercial supply and demand is important in the EfW development sector. This is due to its reliance on private funding.

The UK has made great strides in landfill diversion. This exceeds EU landfill diversion targets, according to the annual Defra Waste and Resource Statistics Digests.

Between 2004 and 2014 the UK achieved some of the highest gains in recycling in Europe. As good as this rise is, the rate of recycling has now plateaued and further substantial gains will require government intervention through policy and fiscal strategies.

 The impact of landfill

The simple truth is that in ten years, the UK will run out of landfill void. As it is, parts of England have already exhausted their capacity, and a shift in policy will be necessary.

Despite the common belief that landfill is a ‘dirty word’, landfill does have an enduring role to play. It is crucial for dealing with waste that it is not possible to recycle, or use for energy recovery.

The role of landfill plays a part in three broad terms of waste management:


  • Specialist: Dealing with difficult wastes. Materials that cannot be burned, recycled or contain various inert wastes.


  • Supporting: Dealing with the residual waste from energy recovery and recycling plants. During planned or unplanned downtime, where other options are unavailable.


  • Bringing: Bridging the gap between the residual waste and waste treatment capacity.


The role of policy, post-Brexit

The decision to leave EU membership has created an environment of uncertainty. Any future waste solutions need investment. Any investment requires confidence in waste policy. As such, clarity over policy is key to making positive and lasting change in the resource management industry.

Pollution control regulations are, for the most part, already incorporated into UK Regulations. The biggest need for clarity relates to future waste strategy and targets.

A comprehensive waste infrastructure strategy, and a clear set of policies for the UK, is essential to help support the private sector. We can then look towards providing the solutions needed for new EfW, landfill capacity, and for sustainable recycling.

Find out more about all of these topics in The Reality Gap (2017)


About the author

Jas Bagri

Jas is part of Biffa’s digital team, writing a diverse range of content on a number on industry topics. Jas’s favourite subject to write about is recycling, so look out for her handy tips coming your way!