Mixed waste sorting should be made mandatory for renewable energy

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) and Reloop have released guidelines stating the need for mandatory mixed waste sorting (MWS) for renewable energy incineration.

Mixed waste sortingThe guidelines aim to inform the legislation of mixed waste sorting in the context of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). It hopes to clarify the amendment proposed by the European Parliament regarding the use of mixed waste for ‘renewable energy’ purposes.

The amendment – in Article 29, paragraph one, subparagraph two of RED – states that ‘in the case of mixed wastes…the operators are required to apply mixed waste sorting systems of defined quality aimed at removing fossil materials’.

ZWE and Reloop clarify that operators must ‘apply mixed waste sorting systems of defined quality to remove fossil-derived materials to ensure that only biogenic waste is used for renewable energy generation’. Following the requirement, the operators would either need to pre-sort the waste on-site or demonstrate that all waste received has undergone sorting prior to it being delivered for incineration.

The guidelines call on the European Council and Parliament to improve the criteria for mixed wastes to ensure this would only qualify as a source of renewable energy if it meets the proposed requirements.

Clarissa Morawski, CEO of Reloop, clarified: “The criteria proposed doesn’t create a new obligation as it's already in the definition of renewable energy to use only the biogenic fractions of wastes and not fossils."

The guidelines also recommend the introduction of the following minimum performance criteria for MSW systems – which comprise the ‘defined quality’ of the renewable energy:

  • For plastics: More than 70 per cent, with non-target materials contributing no more than 10 per cent;
  • For steel: More than 80 per cent, with non-target materials contributing no more than 4 per cent;
  • For aluminium: More than 60 per cent, with non-target materials contributing no more than 6 per cent.

Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme coordinator at ZWE, said: “Currently, the ‘biodegradable fraction of mixed waste’ is never, at incineration plants, combusted without there also being large quantities of (often recyclable) fossil-derived materials present.

“Therefore, to ensure that the RED support[s] schemes that don’t allow the burning of fossil materials such as plastics, mixed waste sorting should be made mandatory for operators that want to sell their energy as renewable.”

A recent report by Eunomia found that – alongside improving separate collection and design for recycling– MWS is necessary to ensure that existing plastic packaging and municipal waste recycling targets are met and to ensure progress towards the EU’s wider carbon emissions reduction goals.

The report also found that MWS can also displace the need for virgin materials. By separating valuable resources from the waste stream by ensuring that energy-intensive materials are not lost to landfill or energy recovery.