Testing times for waste handling

Written by: Claire Coll | Published:

The introduction of taxation on trommel fines has left a lot of people scratching their heads, but luckily there are experts out there unpicking the mystery. Claire Coll asks them for answers on testing times for all involved, from the construction firms to the landfill operators

The debate on the introduction of tax for 'trommel fines' has been raging for years; however, the Landfill Tax (Qualifying Fines) Order 2015 finally came into force on 1 April 2015, and landfill operators will now have to conduct loss of ignition (LOI) tests on the fines they receive from waste processors.

The expectation is that this testing to determine biological content will assist landfill site operators in England, Wales and Northern Ireland determine the correct tax liability for fines – whether they should be taxed at £2.60 a tonne for 'less polluting' waste, or £82.60 a tonne, the current higher rate.

For many operators this could result in a significant increase of landfill tax bills, and has been controversial to say the least, but Steve Hill, MD of Waste Recycling Technologies (WRT), says that a tax for trommel fines had to be introduced: "Traditionally, the oversize waste would go through a hand-sorting system, with the smaller element falling through a hole in the trommel. This was taken to landfill as inert waste."

But now, with the introduction of the trommel fine tax, it's classed as an active waste unless proved otherwise.

"The reality is recycling is driven by making or saving money and, as it gets more expensive to dispose of materials, waste management companies want to cut their costs. Recycling companies will only separate materials that have a value if they can," adds the MD.

However, Hill says there is no magic wand to turn fines into inert waste. Indeed, the good news is that progressive technology for such separation is already on the market, and Hill says WRT is now working closely with companies that are looking to clean up their trommel fines.

"WRT works mainly with construction and demolition (C&D), commercial, skip and trade waste and what we're doing is separating material that you can process, and it's this that saves the customer money. We're taking the material, the screen fines and removing the ferrous metals."

However, for an industry driven by legislation, Hill admits the new rules are a problem for many waste companies: "This has been a massive potential problem for years, the European Economic Area (EEA) and HMRC have taken their time, and the legislation is as clear as mud. However, as a systems provider, we have the solutions to help the customers, but any equipment costs, and they have to balance the savings against the costs."

Jan Lloyd from RTS Waste Management says the introduction of the trommel fines tax makes a mockery of the government's 'green' credentials: "As a family-run business, we are here to protect the environment, we don't like waste having to go to landfill, but our view is that this is more about tax revenue and not reducing pollution. To improve the fines particles, the waste has to be worked even harder, and that is more carbon footprint."

RTS has been operating for over 30 years, and with waste transfer stations in London, Kent and Somerset with a purpose-built MRF, it is striving to offer a zero landfill option.

However, while the LOI threshold for qualifying lower-rate fines will be 15% until 31 March 2016, after 1 April 2016 it will be 10%; yet another change that waste management companies need to prepare for.

"The fines are used to cover the waste when it goes to landfill anyway, so what's the difference in reducing [the LOI threshold] from 15% to 10%? As for the extra 5% – we'll have to work it harder again," warns Lloyd.

Passing costs onto customers

Naturally, this all means increased cost: "Samples are taken and tested regularly, which we have to pay for. As a business, we'll have to increase our fees, which will have a knock-on effect to the client base across the industry. Our margins are tiny anyway." RTS feels that the government should be putting more pressure on the producers of waste to stop it at source: "There should be a tax on the weight of the packaging," suggests Lloyd.

RTS has been researching options for a closed loop since 2009: "We're looking at energy from waste. We want to reduce our supply chain costs, and eliminate landfill, so we're looking to do energy from waste on site, but there are always objections from government. They force the smaller business to work with tight legislation, but they don't support and enable us to close the loop. For example, planning permission is difficult to gain – they want us to do x, but won't support us in y, it has to work both ways" says Lloyd.

Dean Clarke, director at Presona UK, points to changes in the baler sector.

"As legislation moves us ever closer to zero waste to landfill, there's been an increased focus on the production of RDF. Baler design has had to take this into account, recognising the different composition, throughput and end market requirements. Resistance to corrosion and the option for either string or PET ties have become increasingly important factors, as has the ability to adjust bale weight, density and size to create the optimum product – both for transport and as a fuel."

According to the director, there is an increasing demand for bespoke systems.

"Baler design has also responded to an increase in single material streams. For example, there are now balers that are specifically designed to handle PET. Presona has designed bespoke balers for many years now – but there is definitely increased demand for individually engineered and configured systems."

Aidan McGeary, MD of Blue Group, says that many of its customers in the waste sector have over the past few years had a lot of challenges in trying to satisfy the legislative side of the waste management business because of the economic realities of it.

"Finding a margin from all of the different materials that come onto site over the weighbridge and meeting new and stricter legislation are both very important aspects to our customers' businesses," emphasises McGeary.

Blue Group says it is focused on identifying and bringing to market technologies that can help their customers find value where it wasn't found before and are often consulted to advise on difficult applications, such as on the new rules surrounding trommel fines.

"The market has changed a great deal in the past couple of years and will continue to do so. Waste management companies have to find value where they didn't even look before, and that is where we are trying to help. To run material to the tip is a last resort so operations have had to change. Materials that were previously disposed of in bulk have to be processed in what is becoming more like a manufacturing process, with quality control to ensure a consistent end product and that maximum value is achieved for as many materials as possible," explains McGeary.

"Not only do the LOI tests have to be passed, but the material that is left then needs to be sorted to remove the stones, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, wood, specific types of plastic, rubber and anything else of value, leaving little material left that has a disposal cost."

Indeed, the number of enquiries Blue Group has had recently on density separation to help treat trommel fines, and other difficult applications, is reported to have increased.

"The further changes due next April will soon come round, so people are giving serious thought as to what their next moves need to be. We offer tailored solutions using a range of technologies such as fine screening, density separating and metal separation to achieve the best results possible," adds McGeary.

Future-proofing products

In the past, however, there was no ambiguity in the equipment needed: "Companies knew they needed to shred or trommel and it was more straightforward, but now, although people know they need to invest, there's uncertainty as to what they need to invest in, so a lot of our equipment has an in-built flexibility," continues the MD.

"By future-proofing our products, someone who wants to screen at 10mm this year can easily modify the equipment to screen at 6mm next year. It's essential to consider the changing needs of customers at an early stage to give them confidence that they're not going to be left with something they can't use when things change or the LOI goalposts move."

Which, given the UK government's drive towards the 2020 EU recycling targets, may well be sooner rather than later. RWW

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