EU calls for incineration to be minimised

The EU has reached a deal on its Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, categorising activities contributing to the increase in incineration as harmful to the environment.

An EfW facility in County Antrim
An EfW facility in County Antrim

Under development by the EU Commission’s Technical Expert Group (TEG), the EU taxonomy seeks to regulate investments and inform future policy-making by identifying activities that can significantly contribute to climate change mitigation. Under the regulations, any products or services claiming to be sustainable will be assessed to ensure that they do not cause environmental harm.

The EU Commission has agreed that the taxonomy should exclude incineration from its list of activities that advance climate change mitigation, with Article 9 stating that minimising incineration and avoiding disposal of waste will contribute to the circular economy.

The taxonomy also stresses the importance of developing infrastructure for waste prevention, re-use and recycling in order to advance the circular economy.

Article 12, which identifies activities that cause ‘significant harm to environmental objectives’, states that anything that leads to an increase in the generation, incineration or disposal of waste may cause significant and long-term harm to the environment. Notably, the wording of this regulation has been altered from the initial draft, changing from ‘may pose risks’ to ‘may cause harm’.

A policy briefing from Zero Waste Europe has highlighted the significant carbon impact of incineration, revealing that energy-from-waste (EfW) is almost twice as carbon-intensive (580g CO2 equivalent per kWh) as the current EU average electricity grid intensity (298g CO2 equivalent per kWh).

In addition to the carbon intensity of incineration, the policy briefing also drew attention to the high proportion of recyclables in residual waste that would otherwise be recycled or composted, explaining that the need for incinerators to have a constant flow of waste can hinder waste prevention efforts.

Janek Vahk, Programme Coordinator of Zero Waste Europe, commented: “The taxonomy regulation will help bring clarity to what constitutes an environmentally sustainable waste management activity.

“The EU's green standard will mean that people can longer be sold fake green investments such as waste incineration and landfilling, and money can instead flow to the development of waste management infrastructure needed for prevention, preparing for re-use and recycling. It is the most progressive financial legislation in the world."

The update to the EU taxonomy comes after an open letter was sent in September from a group of more than 50 NGOs to the EU Commission Expert Group asking to keep waste incineration out of the scope of green finance.

You can read the Sustainable Finance Regulation document on the EU website