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Creating waste-derived fuels for export trumps potential benefits from incinerator

Re-Gen Waste explains why it believes plans for a waste incinerator proposed in arc21’s Waste Management Plan is bad news for Northern Ireland’s environmental future and will only serve to stifle innovation in the sector


Joseph Doherty, managing director of Re-Gen Waste

Joseph Doherty, managing director of Re-Gen Waste


Waste derived fuels being prepared and baled at a waste to energy plant

Waste derived fuels being prepared and baled at a waste to energy plant


Joseph Doherty, managing director of Re-Gen Waste

Re-Gen Waste, one of Northern Ireland’s largest waste management companies, sees a green future for the region.

It sorts household waste from Newry, Mourne & Down, Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon, Mid Ulster, Causeway Coast & Glens and Mid & East Antrim councils at its Newry base. Re-Gen recycles as much as presently possible, before creating waste derived fuels to be used in highly-efficient Waste to Energy and cement plants in Europe.

This novel approach is typical of the company’s innovative edge and its ability to quickly pivot its operations to take advantage of new technologies and the most environmentally-friendly means of dealing with waste.

Take, for instance, its planned £20m paper and glass plant at Carnbane Industrial Estate which includes the production of a new absorbent paper product derived from local household waste, a project it is working on in association with Queen’s University Belfast. The project will create 120 jobs, a major boost to employment. Also, the company plans to develop a £22m self-funded Circular Economy Resource Park which will include manufacturing facilities for producing solid recovered fuels, creating a further 130 jobs.

These types of innovation have made the waste management sector consistently more efficient and more environmentally-friendly every year, something which could potentially be lost were Northern Ireland to commit to the long-term incinerator proposal.

Re-Gen said if the incinerator is built, not only will it emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, it will stifle innovation in the sector and leave Northern Ireland tied to yesteryear’s waste management solutions for potentially the next 50 years.

According to research carried out by Eunomia Research & Consulting, Re-Gen’s waste management process produces 268kg of CO2 per tonne of waste treated each year compared to 323kg of CO2 per tonne of waste treated for arc21’s plans.

Re-Gen said that its processing of waste to remove the recyclables and exporting the residual waste derived fuels offers a much more environmentally-friendly solution for Northern Ireland’s household waste than plans for the new incineration capacity.

The waste derived fuels which Re-Gen exports are in demand at waste to energy (WTE) plants in Europe to create not just electricity, but also heat which is supplied to homes and businesses through community district heating systems.

More importantly, given the efficiency of the Swedish WTE plants, they already recover virtually 100% of heat energy, their resultant carbon footprint is significantly reduced.

Re-Gen said its process also leaves the flexibility to take full advantage of future advancements and innovations in ways to reuse waste which will likely be less carbon intensive and allow Northern Ireland to reach net zero carbon more quickly.

It is envisaged if the arc21 incinerator were to get the go-ahead, it is unlikely to be built before 2027 and will remain operational well beyond 2050, producing an estimated 68,000 tonnes of carbon a year at a time when the UK is committed to achieving its net zero carbon target. Additionally, new technologies currently being developed could potentially not be adopted, as local waste will be committed to feed the arc21 facility until well past 2050.

Joseph Doherty, managing director of Re-Gen Waste, said: “Our process of treating household waste is by far the most environmentally friendly for Northern Ireland, both now but also in the future because, most importantly at this time of fast and focused innovation, it leaves the door open for us to adopt the very latest technology. It also creates and supports local jobs and will play a key role helping this region reach net zero carbon by 2050.

“An incinerator, of the type proposed, will stymie innovation and bind Northern Ireland to an already-outdated waste treatment process for at least 25-30 years. That’s not what we need during a period where we are on the cusp of seeing new and more agile innovations come to the fore. It is my view and one shared by many others that incineration will be a major impediment in our ambitions to reach net zero carbon in the future.

“Additionally, such a costly project has the potential to be a major drag on taxpayers’ pockets for many years to come and, given its constant demand for feedstock, could see Northern Ireland import waste from other countries to ensure the usual pre contract terms are met.

“Our commitment to investing in the most pioneering technology, creating new employment opportunities in the waste sector to keep Northern Ireland ahead of the evolving landscape is clearly evident.

“We are also steadfast in our belief that there are better options for the future, if we commit to burning our waste for over 25 years that will preclude the opportunity to avail of new technologies. Let’s concentrate on the opportunities that the scientists, researchers and innovators are presenting, leaving the door open to embrace the brightest thinking as we collectively face into the race to net zero.”