Waste or resource? Stimulating a bioeconomy |
Chapter 1: Introduction
1. There has been no shortage of studies into
waste over recent years. Indeed, this Committee conducted an extensive
inquiry into waste reduction in 2007-08.
The House of Lords EU Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and
Energy Sub-Committee will shortly report following an inquiry
into food waste prevention. In our inquiry, however, we focused
very specifically, not on preventing and reducing waste, but on
exploring how unavoidable waste can be transformed into useful,
high value products and contribute to a bioeconomy.
2. The term bioeconomy has been widely used in
international policy and has been defined in several different
ways. In this report,
'bioeconomy' describes the use of biological feedstocks,
or processes involving biotechnology, to generate economic outputs
in the form of energy, materials or chemicals. The growth of a
bioeconomy is underpinned by new technologies. This enables the
use of a wider range of feedstocks, reducing dependence on non-renewable
feedstocks, including fossil fuels.
3. A bioeconomy can make use of a range of feedstocks,
including crops grown specifically for this purpose. This inquiry,
however, looked specifically at the use of carbon-containing wastes
as a feedstock for a bioeconomy. Carbon-containing wastes include
bio-waste or organic wastes such as food, agricultural and forest
residues, as well as sewage sludge.
It also includes plastics and waste gases from industrial processes
or landfill sites. In this report, the term 'waste' therefore
refers to bio-waste, waste gases
and materials such as plastics that contain carbon.
For short-hand we refer to the waste-streams included in our investigation,
which could be used as a resource, as 'carbon-containing waste.'
4. We considered by-products and co-products
as part of the inquiry. Co-products and by-products may be generated
alongside the main product, but are not waste as they have an
established use. An example of a co-product is spent grain from
brewing where it is used as animal feed. Examples of by-products
might be straw and tallow generated in food production, but this
will depend on the market opportunity. Put simply:
"A waste is something that costs you money to
have taken away, a by-product is more or less cash neutral to
your business, and a co-product is something that contributes
profit to profitability."
5. In some cases, new technologies will make
it possible to divert by-products and co-products into higher
value uses. Careful consideration must be given to the environmental
impacts of diverting by-products and co-products from an existing
use. In some cases, however, there will be both economic and environmental
benefits. Using new technologies, wastes may become by-products
and by-products become co-products.
6. In terms of the legislative framework for
waste policy, there are several EU Directives relating to waste
that have been transposed into national legislation. The Waste
and the Landfill Directive
are most relevant to this inquiry. The Waste Framework Directive
defines waste as any substance or object that the holder discards
or intends to discard or is required to discard. Once classified
as waste, a material must be handled according to specific rules
to protect human health and the environment. The Government works
with the Environment Agency to enforce regulation on waste to
protect human health and the environment. The Waste Framework
Directive sets out the requirement to manage waste in accordance
with a 'waste hierarchy'. The hierarchy affords top priority to
waste prevention, followed by preparing for re-use, then recycling,
other types of recovery (including energy recovery), and last
of all disposal (e.g. landfill).
7. Government policy focuses on meeting the requirements
of the EU Directives which are transposed into domestic law. Waste
policy is devolved, meaning that each part of the UK is responsible
for establishing its own policies. These are set out in Government
Review of Waste Policy in England 2011,
Scotland's Zero Waste Plan,
Wales' Towards Zero Waste
and Northern Ireland's Delivering Resource Efficiency.
All four administrations provide funding to, and work with, the
Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). WRAP is a not for
profit, private company with responsibilities for delivering the
UK governments' policies on waste and resource efficiency.
8. The EU Waste Framework Directive sets a target
that by 2020 50% of waste from households should be recycled.
The EU Landfill Directive sets out measures to control and disincentivise
the disposal of waste, requiring Member States to reduce landfill
of biodegradable municipal waste. By 2016, the amount of biodegradable
municipal waste sent to landfill should be reduced to 35% of the
1995 amounts. Historically, the UK has relied more heavily on
landfill than many of its European counterparts. Although the
UK is meeting its targets, it continues to lag behind some other
"Some Member States, such as Germany and the
Netherlands, have virtually stopped using landfill to dispose
of waste and now recycle, compost or incinerate all but a very
small fraction of their household waste."
Figure 1 shows that European countries which have
successfully eliminated the landfill of all types of municipal
waste treat their waste through a combination of incineration,
recycling and composting.
Municipal waste treatment, Europe 2009
(Eurostat, 2011)Treatment of municipal waste (mixed
waste, including biodegradable waste, produced by households and
similar sources and collected by, or on behalf of, municipal authorities)
9. Although the UK is sending more waste to landfill
than some of its European neighbours, this may, perversely, represent
an opportunity; the UK's current reliance on landfill means that
there is a gap in the provision of infrastructure for handling
waste. This could be a strength in enabling the future development
of a high value bioeconomythe UK needs to find ways of
diverting carbon-containing waste from landfill and could achieve
this by putting in place facilities and processes which extract
maximum value from it. With this proposition in mind, we set out
to try and answer the following questions:
· Does it make economic sense to try to
generate useful, high value products from carbon-containing wastes?
· Does it make environmental sense?
· What is the scale of the opportunity?
· What are the barriers facing industry?
· What is the Government's role?
10. This report first of all sets the context
for our analysis by describing the concept of a bioeconomy and
establishing the sources of waste, the types of waste and how
waste is treated in the UK. We then assess the economic and environmental
opportunities at stake. Chapter 3 explores the key issues that
need to be addressed to enable a high value waste-based bioeconomy
11. Waste is a policy area rich in jargon and
acronyms. What is more, it touches on a range of complex scientific
processes. At the outset of this report, we hope the following
box of explanatory terms is helpful.
|Anaerobic digestion: AD is a natural process in which microorganisms break down organic matter (carbon-containing molecules), in the absence of oxygen, into biogas (a mixture of carbon dioxide [CO2] and methane [CH4]) and digestate (a nitrogen-rich residue, which can be used as fertiliser).
· Commodity chemicals are commercially produced in high tonnage quantities.
· Fine chemicals are produced industrially in relatively small quantities and with a high purity; e.g. dyes and drugs.
· Speciality chemicals are made in very low quantities compared to commodity chemicals, are generally of high price, but have specific effects or properties not shared with others.
Fermentation: the biochemical pathway in which organic compounds are broken down enzymatically in the absence of oxygen.
Gasification and pyrolysis: high temperature treatments of carbon containing waste, without allowing enough oxygen for complete combustion. Municipal waste, commercial and industrial waste and refuse derived fuel or solid recovered fuel can be used as feedstocks. Gasification uses temperatures of >700°C and a controlled amount of oxygen. Pyrolysis uses temperatures of around 500°C in the absence of oxygen. Products from these processes include syngas, oil and a solid residue or char.
Refuse derived fuel: RDF is a crude fuel, subjected to low levels of treatment in order to ensure it is no longer classified as solid mixed waste, and to marginally improve its fuel status. It does not function as a fossil fuel replacement due to its low calorific value and variable composition.
|Solid recovered fuel: SRF is a refined fuel meeting a defined specification. Functions as a fossil-fuel replacement in many applications.
Syngas: 'synthetic gas', produced by gasification and pyrolysis. Syngas typically contains carbon monoxide [CO], hydrogen [H2] and methane [CH4]. It can be purified to produce biomethane and hydrogen, or used as a feedstock to generate higher value products.
Synthetic biology: aims to design and engineer biologically based parts, novel devices and systems as well as redesigning existing, natural biological systems.
12. We would like to thank everyone who gave
evidence to us, both at oral evidence sessions, which we held
in the autumn of 2013 and early 2014, and in writing. We also
wish to thank our Specialist Adviser, Mr Ian Shott CBE FREng,
whose expertise assisted our work greatly.
3 House of Lords Science and Technology Committee,
Waste Reduction, (6th Report of Session 2007-08,
HL 163). Available online: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/
OECD (2009) The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda;
European Commission (2013) Innovating for Sustainable Growth:
A Bioeconomy for Europe; The Whitehouse (2012) National Bioeconomy
Blueprint; Federal Ministry for Research and Education (2011)
National Research Strategy Bioeconomy 2030; Schmid et al. (2012)
'The Bio-Economy Concept and Knowledge Base in a Public Goods
and Farmer Perspective'. Bio-based and Applied Economics 1(1):
A feedstock is a raw material which can be used to supply a manufacturing
The 'Circular Economy' uses the term 'biological nutrients.' e.g.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013) Towards the Circular
Economy. Volume 1. Back
Other non-carbon containing gases, such as hydrogen, may also
be used as feedstocks for a bioeconomy. Back
Although minerals such as calcium carbonate also contain carbon,
we did not include them in the scope of our inquiry. Back
Q 83 (Professor Murphy). Back
See: https://www.gov.uk/waste-legislation-and-regulations. Back
See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/environmental-permitting-guidance-the-landfill-directive. Back
See: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69401/pb13540-waste-policy-review110614.pdf. Back
See: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/314168/0099749.pdf. Back
See: http://wales.gov.uk/docs/desh/publications/100621wastetowardszeroen.pdf. Back
See: http://www.doeni.gov.uk/wms_2013.pdf. Back
Defra (2011) Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan. Back
Oxford University Press (2008) Oxford Dictionary of Chemistry. Back
Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd. (1999) Chambers Dictionary
of Science and Technology. Back
See: CIWM website http://www.ciwm.co.uk/CIWM/InformationCentre/AtoZ/GPages/Gasification.aspx;
WRAP (2012) Energy From Waste Development Guidance; REA
(2011) Energy from Waste, A Guide For Decision Makers;
Star COLIBRI (2011) European Biorefinery Joint Strategic Research
See: Environment Agency website http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk;
Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (2013) Exporting
European Recovered Fuel Organisation website http://erfo.info/SRF.67.0.html;
Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (2013) Exporting
The Royal Academy of Engineering (2009) Synthetic Biology:
scope, applications and implications. Back