ZWE report urges EU incineration policy reform

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) today (12 October) published a report asserting that the EU requires a ‘radical improvement’ in its residual waste policy in order to create an environment that is suitable for the development of a circular, carbon-free economy.

EfW plantThe paper, conducted by Equanimator Ltd., states that current EU policy, which is proven to favour incineration as a method for handling residual waste, is ‘unwarranted.’ ZWE states that there is no evidence in support of the practice of burning refuse and warns of the impacts of the approach on the ‘potential for moving waste further up the hierarchy, into prevention and recycling.’

The ZWE report also underscores the incompatibility of incineration as a residual waste strategy with the current climate agenda, stressing that EU policy should reflect changing knowledge and evidence, bringing residual waste management in line with the values of the EU Green Deal in accordance with this developing ideology.

Taking these overarching themes into account, the rest of the report sees ZWE calling for the implementation of measures to ensure that the management of residual waste supports the ambitions of the Green Deal.

The report calls for the elaboration of a clear definition of ‘treatment’, describing it as the ‘treatment of waste prior to landfilling’. In tandem with this, ZWE calls for waste that has been treated to no longer be regarded as biodegradable within the Landfill Directive.

The report goes on to advocate the removal of the R1 formula in Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive, which currently classifies incineration as a form of ‘recovery’. It also calls for the inclusion of incineration facilities within the EU ETS, in order to incentivise waste prevention and recycling, as well as encouraging progress in the development of sorting systems for the removal of plastics from mixed waste. The report goes on to support the mandatory use of mixed waste sorting systems of a defined quality within all new incineration plants, as well as those which have been operational for less than 10 years, in order to mitigate the damage caused by the burning of refuse that continues to go ahead.

In terms of the revision of incineration targets, ZWE is pushing for the municipal waste landfill minimisation objective to be amended so that it moves from the current 10 per cent landfill target by 2035 to a target of 0 per cent of municipal waste landfilled without prior treatment. The report also promotes the establishment of a target calling for the reduction of residual municipal waste to less that 175kg/inh, to be accomplished on the same schedule as existing Waste Framework Directive targets.

Alongside the report, and the policy it pushes for within it, ZWE hosted an event today (12 October), ‘Making the EU residual waste policy fit for a circular Economy’, in order to showcase the paper’s findings.

Janek Vahk, Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe, commented: “The prime focus of the EU policy as regards residual waste should be on reduction of waste and emissions. As of today, it focuses on moving waste from landfill into incineration without any justifiable backing. Unless reversed, the current bias for incineration will play against the Circular Economy and EU’s efforts to fight climate change.”

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