Where does our waste go and what happens if the handling process is disrupted?

This subject was the focus for the annual professional development event and AGM of the Southeast Branch of the Emergency Planning Society. On 19 May fourteen EPS (SE) members led by Chair, Paul Collard and event organiser Steve Scully met at the Veolia’s £160m Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) at Newhaven. The visit was hosted by Veolia’s Paul McMullen and Phil Preece.

Opened in 2011, the state of the art facility looks like a silver submarine and dominates the industrial area of Newhaven. Half the plant is below ground.

The ERF is one part of an integrated waste management (IWM) system which collects, separates, recovers, and composts general waste in 14 facilities across East Sussex, Brighton and Hove. This produces around 400k tonnes of waste each year which in the past went to landfill. By processing this figure is now much reduced.

In 2014, the Newhaven ERF received around 250k tonnes of residual general waste from 5 transfer stations within the East Sussex, Brighton and Hove area.  Once the ERF has burnt this waste for the generation of electricity only a small percentage is left to go back to landfill. The aspiration is for this quantity to be reduced to 5% within 10 years.

Some generated electricity is taken for local power; the remainder goes to the National Grid. Typically at 400mw per day this provides enough for about 25,000 homes.

Power generation from waste now accounts for 1.5% of the UK’s electricity supply. By 2020 it is intended that it will be 6% of total, making a significant contribution to the Country’s energy security.

Veolia’s Phil Preece and Paul McMullen gave a very full explanation of the plant’s operation. Apart from a short period of annual closure for boiler and other maintenance, it runs year-round 24/7.

There was a full discussion of the business continuity and emergency plans for the facility. The latter are designed to handle risks such as fire, localised flooding and other industrial incidents. The staff has access to an extensive web based contingency plans backed up by paper action sheets and aide memoires. A centralised control monitors all operations and the security of the site.

A tour of the plant revealed the high levels of health and safety and environmental controls in place. The culmination was a climb to the roof which provided extensive views across Newhaven.

Veolia hosts and members of the EPS Southeast on top of the Newhaven ERF

EPS at Newhaven (2)







(Photos by Anthony Kimber)

A typical schematic showing the main elements of the ERF process is below.









  • Rubbish from households, local authority services and some local businesses are brought to the ERF, where it is tipped into the storage bunker.
  • From the bunker the rubbish is lifted automatically onto a feed hopper by an overhead crane.
  • The hopper feeds the rubbish into twin incineration units where it is burned at temperatures in excess of 850 degrees centigrade.
  • Oil fired burners aid startup and closure. They also provide the ability to maintain a correct temperature in the incinerator.
  • The incinerator superheats steam which drives the turbine, generating electricity for the National Grid.
  • The cooled flue gases area processed to remove particulates (dust) and to reduce noxious gases and pollutants.
  • Water vapour and cleaned gas is released through the 65m high chimneys. These gases are constantly monitored to ensure they meet strict environmental regulations and legislation.
  • Ash from the incineration process goes into a bunker. After removal of metals this is recycled into aggregate for the construction and road industry.
  • Particulates removed from the filtering process are taken to a separate plant for treatment and safe disposal.


This was a valuable visit to an industry which is being developed to transform waste into a resource and to reduce the amount of waste into landfill sites. From 1st January 2015 new regulations placed a duty on waste collectors to separately collect recyclates to achieve a higher rate of recycling.  It is clear that the Veolia Newhaven ERF now plays a key part in an integrated waste handling system for the Southeast.


Anthony Kimber PhD  FEPS




Former military officer; risk consultant and is involved with several voluntary groups in Rye.
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