ZWE: ENVI Committee decisions will ‘help accelerate circular economy transition’

Today (17 March), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) endorsed decisions made by the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee to ‘help accelerate the transition to a circular economy in Europe’.

european flagThe decisions were the result of a vote on the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) and the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). On RED III, the ENVI committee agreed to limit the use of mixed waste for the ‘renewable energy’ generation purposes.

It also announced it will modify the definition of biomass, to remove the expression ‘fraction of’ when referencing waste, as well as introducing a ‘mandatory’ mixed waste sorting system.

Both of these changes, ZWE said, aim to ensure that non-recyclable, biogenic waste will be used for renewable energy purposes. Moreover, the organisation added, waste incineration of biogenic waste can only be supported if ‘separate collection, recycling, and reuse obligations are fully met’.

Janek Vähk, ZWE’s Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator, said: “The change is very positive because, at incineration plants, the ‘biodegradable fraction of waste’ is always combusted with fossil-derived materials.

“This will put an end to generating renewable energy using a technology that is powered by a substance – mixed waste – which is far from being renewable.”

ENVI also removed the reference to the concept of ‘avoided emissions’ when proposing the methodology for assessing greenhouse gas emissions savings for recycled carbon fuel. This decision, ZWE said, will direct plastic-to-fuel manufacturers away from subtracting emissions that are ‘avoided’ from alternative use, such as waste incineration.

Subtracting these emissions would make it easier for fuels to ‘meet the 70 per cent GHG savings threshold’, stated ZWE – a target required in the transport sector to contribute towards renewable energy targets. A recent study on plastic-to-fuels, the organisation added, shows that plastic-derived fuels produce high exhaust emissions compared to diesel. 

Lauriane Veillard, ZWE Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuels Policy Officer commented: “We welcome the committee decision to exclude ‘avoided emissions’ from the calculation rules for recycled carbon fuels.  From a ZWE perspective, supporting the development of RCF in the context of RED III would  have undermined the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy by discouraging ‘reduce and reuse’ behaviour”. 

ZWE further called on the European Parliament to improve the wording in its upcoming vote in September, to ‘fully exclude the use of fossil-based fuels in the Renewable Energy Directive’.

The ENVI committee additionally proposed the inclusion of municipal waste incineration under the EU ETS – from 2026, these facilities will have to pay an ETS carbon price per each tonne of fossil CO2 they emit. According to ZWE, this will provide an incentive for waste prevention and recycling, which will then become ‘more competitive’ and ‘less costly’ than incineration.

Janek Vähk said: “The proposed inclusion of incinerators is extremely positive as the doubling of fossil CO2 emissions from those facilities have gone unnoticed and unaddressed for decades”.

A recent report, ZWE notes, shows that one-third of the CO2 emissions from the plastics system are caused by incineration of plastic waste, with the organisation adding that the inclusion of incinerators ‘is needed to incentivise plastics circularity and waste prevention, and to reduce CO2 emissions’. ZWE asserts that the ENVI committee is ‘only proposing to include incinerators from 2026 after conducting a review in 2024 to consider potential measures to avoid ‘unintended consequences’ of the inclusion’.

Vähk added: “From ZWE’s perspective, the late inclusion and the review are not justified. Shipping and landfilling of waste are both well regulated and have specific targets such as landfill minimisation and pre-treatment obligations. These rules will be further tightened with the current review of Waste Shipment regulation and the Waste Framework Directive.

“The inclusion is of fundamental importance to allow the EU climate and circularity goals to be successfully met. We hope that the European Parliament will support the ENVI committee position in its upcoming vote in June by supporting the inclusion of municipal waste.”