ESWET welcomes and criticizes EU Commission`s W-t-E publication

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Müllverbrennungsanlage (Foto: Marco Umminger / pixabay)

Brussels — ESWET welcomes the European Commission’s publication on Waste-to-Energy, as thermal energy recovery of waste complements Circular Economy by dealing with waste not suitable for recycling that would be otherwise landfilled. It also provides a source of reliable and local energy and it helps recovering important materials. But ESWET also has to criticizes some of the statements in the Communication.

Waste-to-Energy potential

The Communication states that the rules on separate collection and more ambitious recycling targets ‘are expected to reduce the amount of waste potentially available for Waste-to-Energy processes such as incineration and co-incineration’. This – ESWET argues – stands in contrast to a recent study prepared by the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) that states: „(…) despite the existing potential for waste prevention and reduced generation of these streams [household and similar waste] through better and more widespread source-separated collection, energy recovery is likely to increase to support the necessary massive diversion from landfill. Moreover, higher recycling rates for other waste types may lead to a further increase in the generation of sorting residues, unless the quality of the materials collected separately at source improves.“

Waste-to-Energy capacity

The Communication also highlights that incineration capacity is unevenly spread within the EU. Indeed, 13 Member States still landfill more than 50 percent of their municipal waste and they have no or very little Waste-to-Energy capacity. Hence, ESWET believes that there is room for integrated waste management plans, including new thermal recovery facilities, in these regions. Therefore financial support should be given for the implementation of such integrated waste management strategies, including new thermal recovery facilities.
Besides that, it is also important to notice that waste statistics used for assessing incineration capacities does not take into account commercial and industrial waste, which is also treated in thermal energy recovery facilities. So it is difficult to identify share of mixed municipal waste and non-municipal waste in the plants. Consequently ESWET advises caution when talking about risk of overcapacities.

Waste hierarchy

The Communication dedicates a lot of attention to anaerobic digestion. This technology has its obvious advantages – it deals with bio-waste and provides supplies of fertilisers for the agriculture industry – if the feedstock is not contaminated. However, it is suitable only for part of the waste. So ESWET remarks that contaminated bio-waste should not be used for producing compost and thermal treatment is an obvious alternative.

Incineration taxes

Introducing incineration taxes or placing a moratorium on the construction of new facilities will not necessarily foster a transition towards the Circular Economy. Since thermal energy recovery plants deal with waste that is not suitable for recycling, the incineration rate depends on recycling feasibility of products. Hence, incineration taxes, when introduced together with high landfilling charges, will simply increase the costs for citizens.

Optimizing Waste-to-Energy processes

As it is stated in the Communication, Waste-to-Energy contributes also to the Energy Union strategy and Paris Agreement. However, what is worth noticing is that this contribution comes not only from the anaerobic digestion, but mainly from the thermal energy recovery. Diverting residual waste from landfill (without landfill gas treatment) into thermal energy recovery and metal recycling from bottom ashes can provide savings up to 1.75 tonnes of CO2eq/tonne of residual waste. The metal recycling from bottom ash was briefly mentioned in the Communication, yet we believe it deserves more attention. Thermal energy treatment allows to recover 80kg of metals from 1 tonne of residual waste that otherwise would be buried in a landfill.

The full paper on „The European Commission’s Communication on the role of Waste-to-Energy in the Circular Economy“can be downloaded under eswet.eu

Source: ESWET – European Suppliers of Waste-to-Energy Technology