Municipal Solid Waste – the opportunities of MSW shredding
UNTHA UK managing director Chris Oldfield looks at the opportunities surrounding Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the UK…
Recent debates surrounding landfill cover have sparked newfound conversation within the waste industry. A great level of uncertainty and confusion surrounds the rulings, opinions and developments that continue to surface.
But the landfill tax uproar that appears to have risen in recent times should reiterate to us all how important it is to reduce, reuse and recycle. For as long as the country continues to produce ‘rubbish’, it is imperative that we commit to finding alternative uses for our waste.
We must not lose sight of the fact that a significant WtE market exists in the UK and with landfill targets looming and fossil fuels becoming ever-more depleted, we cannot afford to lose momentum.
WtE is much broader than many realise. Some mistake RDF and SRF as one and the same for instance, but this is not the case. Whilst still homogenous, RDF is a comparatively coarser fraction produced predominantly from pre-sorted and pre-shredded Municipal Solid Waste (and to a lesser extent Commercial and Industrial waste). The UK is currently exporting significant volumes of this material, baled and wrapped, to overseas nations for use as an alternative fuel. It seems ludicrous that for as long as we continue to produce waste at the rate that we do, we are not actualising some value of our own from it.
As is often the case, if we look to our peers on the Continent we find evidence that the use of biomechanically treated MSW in WtE plants is reaping huge benefits. Denmark for instance is considered an incredibly ‘clean’ nation. The capital community of Copenhagen has revolutionised its waste management strategy and is no longer reliant on landfills as a waste problem solver. Instead measures have been implemented to reduce waste, and use that which is produced as a resource that can be recycled or rendered for energy.
Whilst considered steps towards such an approach are being taken in the UK, still we trail behind. The reasons for this are multi-faceted and include a lack of infrastructure, funding issues and nimbyism. Yet we must adopt a new level of focus for MSW. We must also realise that cleverly designed WtE plants incorporate a wealth of advanced engineering that enables clean energy to be produced.
Energy from waste plants are not panaceas – it would be far better to reduce the amount of rubbish the population produces, at source, before making every effort to reuse and recycle whatever we do create. But for as long as the UK continues to create significant volumes of waste, we should be doing our utmost to recoup some value from it.
It is important to select the right technology, of course. MSW needs to be subjected to biomechanical treatment to reduce the volume and stabilise the organic substance of the waste. Once organic and inert materials have been removed during the pre-sorting phase, the first and most important step in the biomechanical treatment process is pre-shredding. Using a primary shredder such as the single shaft UNTHA XR, which is equipped with indexable cutters and adjustable screen bars, operators can configure their technology according to end user requirements.
An intelligent foreign objection protection mechanism guards against unshreddable items and discharges them quickly and efficiently. This not only prevents machine damage; it also ensures a fit-for-purpose shred and a high quality end ‘product’ from which energy can be recovered.
As we all strive to achieve the circular economy that Ellen MacArthur is so inspiringly promoting, we need to find markets for the products we create. Some pre-shredded MSW waste is being used in open grate firing in the UK, but the majority is going abroad. Yes we can look to the Continent to find RDF customers, but the UK should remain dedicated to better embracing this secondary resource and recovering energy from it accordingly.