EU working on energy-from-waste communication

EU working on energy-from-waste communication
Karmenu Vella
The European Commission (EC) is working on an energy-from-waste (EfW) communication that will address how the process can be optimised without compromising higher reuse and recycling rates, says European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

Vella made the announcement while speaking at the Dutch Parliament on Monday (4 April). He says that the European institution is aiming to adopt the communication by the end of 2016.

Speaking about the EC’s circular economy ambitions, Vella said that EfW is an area with “considerable growth potential”. With landfilling being reduced across the EU, and attempts to increase separate collection and recycling rates, Vella said that Europe can expect to send more than 20 per cent of combustible and non-recyclable waste to waste-to-energy facilities. 

The Commissioner explained that the EC is trying to develop a plan that speeds up the “cost-effective transition” towards a “clean, competitive and secure energy future”. The circular economy, he says, will play an important role in this, “especially if in our cost-efficiency analysis we structure in the climate change and the environmental costs as well”.

Addressing the parliament, Vella said: “You have obviously understood that the future of energy is also the future of the environment. We cannot have sustainable energy unless we also include climate and environment in those policies.

“The first objective of the circular economy package is to avoid waste in the first place. But you can never eliminate it all, and you can never recycle it all of it [sic]. However you can still gain by recovering energy from the non-recyclable materials.”

EfW operational issues

Vella’s speech came on the same day that American gas producer Air Products announced that it was abandoning its development of two large-scale gasification plants in the North East of England due to ‘design and operational challenges [that] would require significant time and cost to rectify’.

Air Products's abandoned TV1 development
The company said that it was moving away from the EfW business after the problems encountered at the Tees Valley Project, which is expected to cost the company up to £700 million.

Commenting on the company’s decision, the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) highlighted that it was just the latest example of issues with gasification and pyrolysis projects, calling the processes ‘synonymous with technology failures, bankruptcies and broken promises’.

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator for the group, said: “Investment should focus on sorting technologies and other infrastructure that will move us towards a circular economy, not wasted on disposal technologies which, even if they worked, would still be destroying valuable materials whilst exacerbating incineration overcapacity.”

Circular Economy Package

In his speech to the Dutch Parliament, Vella also gave an update on the EC’s Circular Economy Package, which is due to be adopted by the European Council in June.

He told the parliament that initiatives that will be implemented could bring new savings of €600 billion (£480 billion), nearly eight per cent of the annual turnover for businesses in the EU, and reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by two to four per cent every year.

He said: “The circular economy is an environmental necessity. It’s a sure route to lower emissions, and to a more sustainable energy system. But it’s also smart economics. In a global economy, Europe cannot compete on wage costs. We do not have the wealth of natural resources enjoyed by other parts of the world. But we are rich in other ways – especially when it comes to skills and innovation.

“Demand for the sort of innovation and know-how… is bound to grow. Other economies across the world will want to join in. This will create export opportunities for those companies who move and act first.

“We have already introduced new measures on fertilisers, making it easier for manufacturers to reuse raw materials that were previously disposed of as waste, and opening up the single market to organic and waste-based fertilisers.

“Over the coming months and years, as detailed in the action plan, there will be more initiatives in other areas such as eco-design, food waste, plastics, water reuse, chemicals, green public procurement, consumption, and innovation.”

Learn more about the Circular Economy Package in Resource’s in-depth interview with Karmenu Vella.