ESA - Environmental Services Association
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About the ESA

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) is working to transform waste and resource management in the UK. Our work helps enable our members to turn Britain’s waste into valuable resources whilst protecting the environment. 

Our industry provides services which are essential to modern life. The companies that make up our sector collect the waste materials produced by households and businesses across the UK, treat it responsibly, and turn a large percentage of it into new resources and energy for the nation.

In recent years the industry has transformed itself:
  • Ten years ago, over three-quarters of Britain's waste went to landfill (compared to well under 50% today
  • resource & waste management was chiefly focused on the logistics of collection and transport. 
While these still matter, the industry has developed a range of technologies to treat waste materials and extract value from it. Innovation is a constant feature of modern waste management.

ESA is at the forefront of debates about waste prevention and recycling, playing a vital role in driving higher standards within our industry.

  • We provide an essential public service

The UK produces 75 million tonnes of household (municipal), commercial and industrial waste a year, roughly 200,000 tonnes per day. Collecting this waste is one of the UK's essential public services, like energy supply and the operation of our transport networks.

As with energy and transport, any significant interruption to this service is of huge concern to the public and threatens our quality of life.

ESA research has shown that two out of three people believe that waste collection is the most important service provided through local authorities.

  • We enable businesses and public authorities to stay compliant with EU law

UK waste policy is largely shaped by the EU Waste Framework Directive and in particular the 'Waste Hierarchy'.

The 'Waste Hierarchy'

According to that hierarchy, preventing (REDUCING) waste arising in the first place is the ideal, and LANDFILL should be the last resort for managing the waste. 

REUSING, RECYCLING and RECOVERING ENERGY from the waste make up the middle of the hierarchy.


In addition to the broad principles of the hierarchy, EU law covers all aspects of waste collection and treatment in great detail. The Landfill Directive and the Waste Framework Directive also set targets such as:

  • Recycling or preparing for reuse 50% of household waste by 2020
  • Reusing, recycling or recovering 70% of non-hazardous construction & demolition waste by 2020
  • Reducing the amount of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) going to landfill to no more than 35% of 1995 levels by 2020.

Through the combined efforts of householders, local government and ESA's Members, municipal recycling rates have risen from 12% in 2001 to over 40% in 2011. However, we need to do even better – 24m tonnes of all waste is still landfilled each year, including almost half of all municipal waste.

Failure to comply with EU and other waste law obligations could have serious consequences:
  • For the UK Government (and where relevant the devolved administrations) failure could mean infraction proceedings against the UK, potentially followed by fines of up to £500,000 per day.
  • For local authorities, the Localism Bill provides for fines incurred by the UK Government because of a local authorities' failure to manage their waste to comply with the EU targets, would be passed on indirectly to residents, as local authorities would have to recoup the fines through Council Tax.
  • For companies, failure to comply with their legal duty of care can lead to a penalty of up to £5,000 if convicted in the Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine if convicted in the Crown Court.
The waste management industry is committed to helping its customers avoid these risks, through the investment in treatment infrastructure it makes and the services it offers.

The industry is also helping to meet the UK's obligations under the EU Renewables Directive. This requires the UK to source 15% of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2020, equivalent to a seven-fold increase in UK renewable energy consumption from 2008 levels: the most challenging of any EU Member State .

Some forms of Energy from Waste (EfW) are officially defined as renewable, and EfW currently provides over 6% of UK renewable electricity – over 1,500 GWh (Gigawatt hours) in 2010, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This is enough to power almost 200,000 homes for a year, or in other words, nearly all the homes in a city the size of Edinburgh.

  • We are helping the UK tackle climate change

In the past, methane emissions caused by biodegradable waste in landfills has been a significant proportion of UK GHG emissions. The industry has worked hard to cut landfill methane emissions by 72% since 1990 through:
  • Diverting biodegradable waste away from landfill.
  • Capturing the methane gas from landfills and using it to generate electricity, with approximately 4,900 GWh generated in 2010.
The industry is also reducing its operational emissions. ESA has developed a reporting protocol to help measure this, and returns from ESA members show GHG emissions from all waste managed in the UK have fallen by 70% since 1990.

But the industry's influence in cutting emissions goes much wider. Working with householders, local government and the environmental movement, municipal recycling rates have risen exponentially. In the vast majority of cases, recycling uses less energy (and hence creates fewer carbon emissions), than producing virgin material. For example did you know recycling aluminium is 20 times more energy efficient than making it?

  • We are helping make Britain's energy system more secure

Britain's energy policy is under enormous pressures. One third of the UK's electricity generating capacity is due to close by 2020, including most of our coal and nuclear power stations. New coal plants would be too carbon intensive. New nuclear plants remain a possibility but are less certain in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear incidents.

Wind is likely to continue to be installed, but delivers intermittent power. Gas power stations may fill much of the gap, but at the cost of increasing reliance on imported gas, much sourced as shale gas through processes which are attracting increasing opposition.

Energy from Waste, whether in the form of Incineration with energy recovery, landfill gas, or biogas from Anaerobic Digestion (AD), suffers from none of these problems. It is indigenous, largely renewable, and reliable. Britain needs more of it.

The ESA is working with its members to deal with all these changes, and helps enable them to turn Britains waste into valuable resources, whilst protecting the environment