ZWE report urges inclusion of incineration under EU Emission Trading System

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) has released a report suggesting that the inclusion of incineration within the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) could increase levels of waste prevention and recycling across the continent.

The study, carried out by CE Delft, points out that municipal waste incineration is, at present, excluded from the system, with its addition meaning that waste companies would be made to purchase emission credits for every tonne of carbon dioxide produced in the treatment of household, company, and industrial waste. ZWE states that this additional cost would act as an incentive for resource management businesses to bolster their waste prevention and recycling rates.

Incinerator ETSThe report also asserts that this would result in the creation of additional employment opportunities, as recycling processes are often more labour-intensive than those of waste incineration. ZWE suggests that, with the inclusion of incineration under the ETS system, there is the potential for over 14,000 jobs to be created between now and 2030.

The incineration debate

The debate surrounding incineration is contentious and ongoing. Those against the practice, such as the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), warn of the large quantities of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that it entails, as well as the disparity between proposed performance at planning stage and actual performance in practice. Those in support of the practice deem it a solution that removes non-recyclable refuse from the waste stream, diverting it from landfill and reducing the amount of waste pollution in the process.

The ‘Waste Incineration under the EU ETS’ paper comes in the wake of two reports on the topic of incineration being published. Earlier this week, ZWE released another study that warned against the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology within incineration, labelling it a ‘distraction’ from efforts towards circularity. This contrasts with a study issued by Eunomia, stating that CCS should be promoted by the waste sector as a means through which to achieve carbon neutrality and meet the UK government’s Net Zero ambitions.

Conclusions of the report

The potential impact of the inclusion was studied within two scenarios – firstly in the situation where only fossil fuel emissions are considered, such as carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the burning of plastics; and, secondly, in the instance where both fossil fuel and biogenic emissions are considered, often stemming from the combustion of food waste, for example.

The main findings of the report were as follows:

Due to the direct price incentive of including incineration under the ETS, companies could see levels of waste reduction increase from eight per cent to 25 per cent, in comparison to the domestic increase amongst households from 0.2 per cent to five per cent.
The inclusion of incineration under ETS could see carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 2.8 Mt per year in 2022 within the fossil fuel scenario; by 8.8 Mt per year in 2030 within the fossil fuel and biogenic scenario. The report attributes 90 per cent of this decrease to commercial and industrial waste reduction.

The report goes on to state, in order to further reinforce the impact of including incineration under the EU ETS, additional policies should be implemented in tandem. These would include mandatory recycled content for plastics; the introduction of an increased amount of pay as you throw (PAYT) trash metering schemes across Europe; more variable tariffs; and a reduction in the cost of waste bins for separate collections.

Based on the paper’s findings, ZWE is now calling on the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to incorporate municipal waste incinerators (MWIs) within the ETS and ensure they are charged for their emissions.

Janek Vӓhk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Coordinator, commented: “The new report shows that the inclusion is a triple win-win situation by benefiting not only the climate but also creating employment and helping Europe to move towards a more circular economy by encouraging waste prevention and recycling".