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UK anaerobic digestion industry under threat from EU proposal

The UK anaerobic digestion (AD) industry is under threat from proposed changes to the EU Waste Framework Directive, according to the UK Renewable Energy Association (REA).

By Kari Williamson

The changes, known as End of Waste, could introduce new procedures on the use of the digestate from the anaerobic digestion process, which could harm the indstry.

The REA says it is engaged in constructive dialogue with Defra officials and anaerobic digestion operators to build a strong negotiating position with the clear objective of ensuring that the UK industry’s concerns are represented in Brussels and vital changes made.

The trade association adds that the proposed End of Waste criteria do not represent a more stringent set of regulations than the BCS criteria – rather, they are simply wholly inappropriate in the UK context. In their current form they are aligned to German anaerobic digestion practice, which typically uses large percentages of energy crops as input, in contrast to the UK model where food waste is commonly 100% of the inputs.

The UK is the only member state to have developed its own End of Waste process, however, if the new proposals are not changed, much of the digestate UK anaerobic digestion produces would be reclassified under the End of Waste criteria not as 'recycled product', but as 'waste', greatly impacting on both its commercial viability and on its ability to contribute towards local authority recycling targets, which is a major part of the technology’s appeal, REA warns.

REA Chief Executive Gaynor Hartnell, says: “Five years ago the REA recognised that for biogas to really take off in the UK, plant operators needed to get the digestate they produced recognised as a valuable fertiliser, rather than a problematic waste. We have the Biofertiliser Certification Scheme up and running, which does just that, and the first few plants are now getting their certificates.

“Their digestate is a seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to mineral fertiliser, having a lower carbon footprint and many other beneficial characteristics. Certified biogas plants can make a valuable contribution towards achieving local authorities’ recycling objectives. There needs to be a full impact assessment to fully understand the potential impact on UK business. We can’t have new rules imposed from Europe which would send us back to square one.”

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