RiverRidge’s CEO calls for a Holistic Approach to Residual Waste Treatment

“RECYCLING opportunities are being lost and if we are to achieve the region’s demanding recycling and circularity targets, we must increase the pre-treatment of recycling from household residual waste instead of simply landfilling nearly 200,000 tonnes every year” was the stark message from RiverRidge’s CEO, Brett Ross during the recent inaugural Northern Ireland Waste and Resource Management Conference.

Speaking to the 200-strong crowd that descended on Belfast’s ICC, the first of its kind for the region, Brett Ross warned that the over-reliance and excessive use of landfill was detrimental to Northern Ireland’s success in reaching its 2035 target of a 65% municipal recycling rate and its aspiration to become carbon neutral, and that a holistic approach to household residual waste treatment needed to be established.

He stated that any solution will have to support the decarbonisation of not only the energy network but also the transport sector. The collection of waste using traditional combustion vehicles is the single largest contributor to GHG that the sector generates, despite those vehicles carrying a feedstock capable of generating Biomethane and Hydrogen, two viable alternatives to fossil-based vehicle fuels.

The fact is that capacity for landfilling is running out, and that some of Northern Ireland’s councils continue to send their waste to landfill without any pre-treatment, when there are sufficient alternative solutions available within the private waste sector. A sector which boasts several leaders in its field, employs over 1,000 people and many more indirectly, and that has also invested over £250m in the past 15 years.

In order to meet the new targets, the current levels of landfill tonnage need to fall by 80% – a significant figure but one that’s achievable according to Brett Ross.

“The importance of change within the region’s waste sector cannot be understated and timelines are now critical. We are at a crossroads and the existing indecisiveness is becoming costly in terms of both financial and carbon budgets. The current trajectory relies heavily on waste incineration, which is a better alternative to landfill but one that isn’t a sustainable long-term solution for Northern Ireland. It is exposing us to inevitable carbon taxation and will not facilitate a growth in recycling, which means we will miss our current target of a 65% municipal recycling waste by 2035.”

He also stated that we need to consider the carbon impact of the current approach to waste management and that it can be no longer sustained. The impact of landfilling is almost 20 times more carbon intensive than recycling, and over four times more intensive than energy recovery activities.

Pivotal Role

RiverRidge has been at the forefront of change within Northern Ireland’s waste industry over the last 11 years, playing a pivotal role in enabling the achievement of landfill diversion strategies by the region’s local authorities.

The company has introduced a number of innovative processes including the development of Northern Ireland’s first and only waste to energy facility, Full Circle Generation, the progression of its waste to vehicle fuel project, and conversion of plastic waste into industrial lubricants and waxes. The company regards itself as a leader of innovation with the sector and will continue to pave the way towards a zero-carbon economy.

Added Brett Ross: “We need to look at developing disposal pathways that are more aligned to each part of the residual waste stream which are less carbon intensive and will lead to a substantial increase in recycling throughout the region. Whilst we have made progress in recent years, the biggest challenge that we face is reaching carbon zero and that’s something we all must consider and act on now.”