Incineration overcapacity ‘threatens’ recycling

A new study commissioned by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has found that incinerators operating in some EU states have the capacity to burn ‘more than the non-recyclable waste generated’ and warns that plans to increase incineration capacity pose an ‘environmental and an economic threat’.

The ‘Incineration overcapacity and waste shipping in Europe: the end of the proximity principle?’ report, released today (21 January) by GAIA, an international alliance of more than 650 grassroots organisations in over 90 countries, found that Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom already have more incineration capacity than waste to burn and ‘as a result, shipments of waste for burning has increased across national borders’. According to the group, this ‘contradicts the proximity principle’ of the Waste Framework Directive and causes ‘unnecessary CO2 emissions’.

The report reads: ‘the construction of new incineration plants in countries that already have a high share of waste incineration… can have a negative effect on the achievement of high recycling rates.

‘This also opens the door to the increase of waste shipping within the EU, which contradicts the principle of proximity set out in the WFD… [and] the fact that waste shipping for incineration with energy recovery does not need authorisation creates a lack of information and threatens the recycling goals set by the Waste Framework Directive.’


The report states that 22 per cent of the EU’s waste is burned in the 406 incinerators currently in operation in the EU.

Although Germany, France and Italy have 63 per cent of all EU incinerators, the highest incineration rates (measured per capita) were Denmark (365 kilogrammes (kg)), Luxembourg (240 kg) and Sweden (226 kg), with the latter already having to import waste to ensure that the incinerators are running at efficient levels.

The report goes on to say that overcapacity has ‘very high potential impacts’ on recycling markets and on waste treatment prices.

‘On one hand, investments in incineration facilities must be paid off and this creates a need of waste being sent to incineration, rather than prevented or recycled. On the other hand, if not enough waste is sent to incineration to pay off the investments, incineration fees must increase, which has an effect on waste charges paid by households and commercial activities…

‘Therefore, planning overcapacity when the magnitude of the current and future waste flows is not certain represents both an environmental and an economic threat.’

Hijack waste prevention and recycling’

Commenting on the report findings, Coordinator of GAIA in Europe Joan Marc Simon urged the European Commission to introduce tighter controls over European incineration capacity.

“If the European Commission is to maintain its commitment to limit incineration to non-recyclables by 2020, the strategy should be to close incinerators and not to build new ones.

“The objectives of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap and recycling targets won’t be achieved unless the European Commission tightly controls the European incineration capacity.”

Simon went on to warn that overcapacity could cost taxpayers as they would need to ‘compensate for the unused installed capacity’.

“If incineration overcapacity continues and/or is extended it will either be at the expense of taxpayers – because it will increase waste fees to compensate for the unused installed capacity – or it will hijack waste prevention and recycling – because there will not be enough waste to burn.

“The European Commission should control the supply of incineration capacity in the European market to ensure it doesn’t endanger prevention and recycling. It should also remove all the economic and legal incentives that today make burning waste preferable to recycling.”

UK overcapacity

A recent report released by waste management consultancy Eunomia, warned that the UK could have almost seven million tonnes more capacity than residual waste needing treatment by 2015 if the facilities that already have planning consent reach operation, rising by a further 4.4 million tonnes of capacity if those facilities seeking planning permission are granted consent.

ShlomoShlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), commented: "The European Commission has warned the United Kingdom to pursue reuse and recycling rather than overcapacity of incineration, and has noted that: 'Countries like Denmark and Switzerland are burning much more than they should and that’s not good'.

“However, the government has not even been monitoring the situation in the UK, despite the fact that there is already more incineration capacity in the UK than genuinely residual waste."

Read the ‘Incineration overcapacity and waste shipping in Europe: the end of the proximity principle?’ report.