There was some welcome news about garbage incineration coming out of Europe recently. The European Commission published a communication on the role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy. The text, although non-binding, provides clarity for the implementation of the waste hierarchy and gives guidance for Member States to avoid problems such as incineration overcapacity. “We cannot keep wasting our money and resources in subsidising waste-to-energy,” said Ferran Rosa, Waste Policy Officer, Zero Waste Europe
For the countries with low incineration capacities and highly dependent on landfilling, the Commission advises to focus on improving separate collection and increasing the recycling capacity. Priority should be given to collection and recycling of bio-waste and to take into account a long-term perspective when assessing the need of so-called waste-to-energy facilities, as mixed waste is expected to be significantly reduced in the coming years as recycling rises.
Those countries with high incineration capacity (typically Northern European countries) are, however, recommended to raise incineration taxes, to phase out primes and subsidies to waste-to-energy incineration and to introduce a moratorium on new facilities, as well as decommissioning old ones.
Member States are recommended to phase out public subsidy for the recovery of energy from waste, and so is the support from the Commission for this infrastructure through EU funds.
Zero Waste Europe urges Member States to implement these recommendations so they move up in the waste hierarchy. Despite these positive recommendations, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) regrets that the European Commission did not include the call to phase out subsidies for waste-to-energy in the recent Renewable Energy Directive proposal. ZWE would remind the commission that energy savings via prevention and recycling are currently undermined by subsidies going to lower levels of the waste hierarchy such as waste incineration. ZWE calls on MEPs and the national governments to fix this during the legislative process.
Whereas the “non legally binding” communication is not condemning incineration it is to be welcomed that it encourages focusing on separate collection and recycling and not building new incinerators. It also suggests that countries heavily reliant on incineration (see that Sweden and Denmark) have the highest per capita incineration capacity with 591 kg/cap and 587 kg/cap respectively!- should raise incineration taxes and decommission old plants.
Considering everything we believe that, all this is a good step in the right direction!