The power of waste

3 min read 23 Aug 21

With increasing recognition of the impact of non-recyclable waste on the planet, comes a growing desire to find viable solutions to society’s stubborn waste problem. Modern waste-to-energy facilities, which power and heat homes from waste, can help the transition to a more resource-efficient and circular economy, and support broader net-zero ambitions. 

Going circular – Why recycling isn’t enough

Waste generation and waste management are rapidly growing global challenges that are closely linked to other environmental concerns including resource depletion and climate change.

As rubbish reaches its tipping point, the desire to find viable solutions to society’s stubborn waste problem is only growing. This is why waste-to-energy has become one of several imperatives for more sustainable waste management.’ 

The circular economy concept is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. For a circular economy it is essential to recycle materials from waste to ‘close the loop' and reduce the reliance on virgin materials. However, not all the waste generated by society today can be recycled, reused or avoided. Some waste material is simply unsuitable for recycling, whereas the composition of some other waste material means it can only be recycled a handful of times before degrading too much for further use or because its design makes it difficult to recycle correctly.

Non-recyclable waste therefore still accounts for around half of the total municipal solid waste generated in Europe, with household recycling rates in the UK having plateaued in recent years at around 45% (falling short of the 2020 target of 50%)1. The UK, like the EU, has targeted a 65% recycling rate by 20352.

Even with all the necessary improvements to increase the levels of repair and reuse in a product’s lifecycle together with economic incentives to encourage higher recycling rates, society is still expected to produce an oversupply of non-recyclable waste each year that needs to be processed. The world is projected to be home to closer to 10 billion people by 2050, with global waste generation projected to increase by 70% from 2016 levels3. The UK waste market is expected to sustain a waste processing capacity gap, reaching c.9.7 million tonnes of waste by 2025 unless investment is made in new waste processing and treatment infrastructure.

Waste-to-energy forms part of the solution

As rubbish reaches its tipping point, the desire to find viable solutions to society’s stubborn waste problem is only growing. This is why waste-to-energy (WtE) has become one of several imperatives for more sustainable waste management.

After reducing, reusing and recycling as much as possible, WtE plants provide the infrastructure to efficiently recover energy from residual, non-recyclable waste under carefully controlled conditions. The energy recovered from non-recyclable waste via WtE can then be used to generate electricity to power and heat homes. Modern, energy efficient WtE plants have a crucial role in broader efforts to reduce the environmental impact of waste, as they effectively divert residual waste that would otherwise be destined for more environmentally-damaging landfill disposal – considered to be the option of last resort.

Turning rubbish into electricity to power UK homes

Viridor is a leading UK energy from waste and waste management company. Viridor’s energy from waste business, which aims to deliver energy from society’s waste to supply to the National Grid network, consists of 11 modern energy recovery facilities (ERFs). These facilities are vital in supporting the UK’s ambition to reduce waste efficiently and effectively, and helping to reduce the net impact of waste on the environment.

What’s more, Viridor has committed to drive the UK waste sector on its path to decarbonisation and be a leader in the fight against climate change by aiming to become a net zero emissions company by 2040 and the first net negative emissions waste and recycling company by 20454.

Impact financing in action - Viridor5

2.9 million tonnes of waste diverted from landfill annually6
1,807 gigawatts per hour (GWh) of electricity generated annually
587,000 homes powered by electricity from ERFs7

This investment is aligned with the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production8.

UK Government, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, “UK Statistics on Waste”, 15 July 2021.
UK Government, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, “Circular economy measures drive forward ambitious plans for waste”, 30 July 2020.
The World Bank, “Global Waste to Grow by 70 Percent by 2050 Unless Urgent Action is Taken: World Bank Report”, 20 September 2018.
Viridor, “Viridor commits to fight against climate crisis by becoming first UK net negative emissions waste company”, 20 May 2021.
5 Impact Financing impact metrics are intended to provide an indication of expected outcome. Source: Viridor ‘2020 Sustainability Report” (unless otherwise stated).
By Vridor’s fleet of 11 ERFs that form the security for this investment.
Based on annual estimate electricity usage of c. 3,079 kWh per household in the UK - Ofgem figures 2020.
8 While we support the UN SDGs, we are not associated with the UN and our funds are not endorsed by them.


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