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2021 to herald biggest change in biowaste market in recent years

The next 12 months will herald the biggest changes in the biowaste market since the development of Quality Protocols setting out how recovered materials could be reused or supplied into other markets, without being subject to regulatory controls.

The publication of Defra’s updated Resources and Waste Strategy for further consultation will confirm many of the policy changes that will deliver major changes in the way we deal with waste. A shift in position on mandated separate food waste collections, an increase in the volume of material on the market and the question of TEEP assessments, are all on the cards for 2021. The year ahead will also see the adoption of new technology and consolidation in the sector.

Food waste collections

Since the publication of the first draft of Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy, there has been a notable shift in position regarding mandated separate food waste collections due in part to action taken by the consortium formed by WRM. It is likely the updated Strategy will include a shift towards allowing comingling certain waste collections such as food and garden wastes. This will enable local authorities to provide a service that best serves the needs of their individual communities while still achieving the environmental gains that underpin the Strategy’s objectives of diverting organics from the residual waste stream.

Full TEEP assessments are unlikely to be necessary for some local authorities, with the provision of relevant guidance expected in its place while the market will have the freedom to innovate and provide solutions that best fit with the needs of each local authority.

And as food waste collections will be mandatory for all local authorities from 2023, there is now an urgent need to understand the preferred collection options and treatment solutions. Indeed, given the procurement process for a design, build and operation (DBO) contract is likely to require at least 12 months and a similar period or longer needed for the construction of treatment infrastructure, decisions must be made now.

New Technology

Gearing up for long term biowaste procurement contracts and preparation for mandatory food waste collections will inevitably be a major focus in the months ahead and 2021 will see rising interest in alternative treatment technologies and facilities. Greater flexibility regarding comingled collection of garden and food waste will drive the adoption of new technologies, such as Dry AD which is suitable for comingled garden and food waste. For some catchments this will enable more cost-effective waste collections while still delivering environmental gains through renewable energy production and reducing the bill to the taxpayer.

And with every local authority required to make collections on a weekly basis, and consequently more material on the market than ever before, spare market capacity will be filled bringing increasing opportunities for the development of new technology and infrastructure.

2021 is therefore the year in which the sector will have its greatest opportunity to prepare for real advances. The timescale in which this change needs to be achieved however, presents a very significant challenge and the risk that the number of local authorities seeking the same solution will exceed availability.

Market consolidation to continue

Meanwhile, it is likely that market consolidation will continue. Operators in the organics waste market have already walked away, not having either the appetite or capital to invest in expanding facilities to the degree that the years ahead will require. The implementation of tighter regulations across the biowaste market will see this consolidation continue as higher value contracts carry too much contractual risk for smaller independent operators. Some will sell while others will be reliant upon sub-contracting to larger organisations.

Driving positive change

After a decade of policy vacuum, the Resources and Waste Strategy is undoubtedly a driver for positive change and represents the biggest opportunity for advances in the sector in many years. But the only way in which we can hope to achieve its objectives is by recognising the immediate urgency of the response required.

And whether the final publication follows within the calendar year or not, 2021 and beyond will be a time of extraordinary challenge for those procuring new solutions and those tasked with bringing new capacity online to treat all the material that will be captured.

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