It may sound unbelievable, but it’s true: it’s more economical and, ultimately, more environmentally friendly to dispose of waste generated in the UK in South Africa. Warren Steele, managing director of UK-based environmental consultancy Resource Sustainability Projects (RSP), explains why.
After working with our local partners for a couple of years, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more affordable to export processed waste material to South Africa, including permitting, transportation and handling costs, than it is to landfill that material in the UK,” explains Steele. His company, RSP, is a UK-based environmental consultancy providing project management and consultancy for waste and alternative energy projects, including total waste management solutions and the supply of refuse derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuels (SRF).
There are a number of reasons backing up Steele’s claim, including the fact the landfilling is heavily penalised in Europe, as well as RSP’s ability to charge its clients a lower rate for fuel than the price of fossil fuels. Additionally, using RDF and SRF is viable from a green credentials point of view because waste is being diverted from landfill for the purposes of energy production.
The rands and cents work out as follows: European waste managers are subject to a landfill tax. “At the moment, that’s £88 per tonne (about R1 500),” says Steele. “On top of the landfill tax, we have a gate fee that we pay the owner of the landfill.”
Most landfills in Europe are privately owned – unlike South Africa, where most landfills are owned by municipalities. “If you factor in transportation costs, that adds up to about £110 per tonne to landfill waste. The benefit of producing alternative fuel is that transport, operational and production costs come in at something in the region of £78 per tonne – about £10 per tonne more affordable than landfill tax alone,” Steele explains.
In South Africa, it’s 10 times cheaper to landfill than in most European countries, this presents a challenge to creating the same cost-saving equation for disposing of waste locally.
So saying, there are more and more private companies with global parents that want to create standardised net-green solutions across the entire architectures of their businesses. This is one of the factors that has prompted RSP to look at partnering with South African waste management companies more seriously.
Another factor is the fact that South African landfilling must soon become more expensive of necessity, as legislation creates an environment for higher resource recovery targets and drives separation at source.
“We’ve witnessed significant growth in the sector in South Africa over the last couple of years, and our South African partners have conducted research into labour and equipment costs, cost recovery and return on investment models. The result is that we’ve judged the market to be ready for our solutions as of August this year,” explains Steele.
The company has also been in discussions with one of South Africa’s major cement suppliers concerning the supply of SRF for the klinker process – a much greener option than currently used in South Africa.
RSP deals specifically with waste processing, waste transfer and the export of processed wastes as alternative fuels into Europe, North Africa and, most recently, South Africa.
“Over the last three years, RSP has become one of the largest alternative fuel suppliers in the European market. We deal with clients in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and now Egypt in the African market,” says Steele.
“Our team in Europe builds contracts for the supply of alternative fuels for Waste-to-energy, heat recovery and cement burning. On the cement side, they use the SRF. This might be confusing because, in South Africa, SRF is commonly known as RDF, but in Europe we call it SRF because we use this specific material for cement production as an alternative to fossil fuels. RDFs are manufactured from wetter waste streams, typically derived from household waste collections and, as a result, burn more slowly, making them more suitable for electricity production and some heat applications,” he explains.
South Africa has very few RDF production facilities and, therefore, RSP’s stock can be used to bulk up local supplies, creating a sustainable, reliable supply of alternative fuels for companies looking to secure energy from waste.
SRF for cement manufacture
“On the SRF side, the product is presented as a ‘fluff’, which has a calorific value of around 20 MJ per kg, which can go up as high as 30 MJ. Material specifications are 20 mm x 20 mm with a thickness of less than 1 mm,” says Steele.
SRF is, therefore, ideal for use in the klinker production process where limestone is converted to klinker at 1 450°C. This requires a high calorific value and fast combustion for the process to work. After the limestone is converted to klinker, it is then converted to cement.
“In Europe, we provide SRF for companies like HeidelbergCement in Belgium,” says Steele.
In the UK, municipal solid waste is sent directly to a transfer station. This is a comparatively new practice in South Africa where waste is usually sent straight to landfill.
“From the transfer station floor, waste is then sent to an MRF. After that, it goes through an optical sorting process, which sorts the larger fraction from the smaller fraction. Thereafter, materials are separated into high-biomass streams and non-recyclables. The non-recyclable end-of-life waste is the material that moves to our production plant for SRF and RDF, where it is sorted again into wet and dry waste,” explains Steele.
RDF and SRF are then baled and loaded on to curtain-sided trucks (flat decks), and then transported across the English Channel to European markets.
“Two of our recovery partners in Europe are AEB in Holland and EEW – Energy from Waste – in Germany,” says Steele.
RSP’s distribution network in Europe moves upwards of about 150 000 tonnes of material per year that would have otherwise been destined for landfill. This figure will only increase as the company expands into Africa.
“Right now, we are engaged in a project that will increase our export by an extra 70 000 tonnes of material per year,” says Steele.
Transportation of bales into South Africa is carried out over sea via 40 ft containers with a capacity of about 26 tonnes per container. “One requires a transfrontier shipment permit to transport mixed waste to South Africa; this needs to be ratified by the relevant environmental authorities, both where the ship departs and where it docks,” says Steele.
“The permitting process is time-intensive and costs £14 000 per permit, so we need to make sure the economics stack up in terms of transporting the material, permitting the material and the operational costs of dealing with the material,” he adds.
In spite of the risks associated with South Africa’s relative abundance of available land for landfilling and the need to ensure buy-in from local cement manufacturers, RSP has identified South Africa’s waste management market as being ready to take the next step forward.
“We’ve watched the South African market for some time and feel that, by investing now, we’ll put RSP in the forefront as South African waste management matures,” concludes Steele.