EU communication on waste-to-energy in the circular economy

EU commission has issued a communication „The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy“, which includes several important positions regarding the waste incineration.

1. Member States with low or non-existent dedicated incineration capacity and high reliance on landfill

These Member States should give priority to the further development of separate collection schemes and recycling infrastructure in line with EU legislation. The gradual diversion of waste from landfill should go hand-in-hand with the creation of greater recycling capacity. Reducing the landfilling of biodegradable waste is particularly urgent from a climate perspective so as to reduce methane emissions. Here, the development of combined energy recovery and material recycling capacity in the form of anaerobic digestion could represent an attractive management option.

When reviewing national waste management plans and assessing the need for additional waste-to-energy capacity for the treatment of non-recyclable waste (e.g. incineration), Member States should take a long-term perspective and carefully assess the following factors:

− the impact of existing and proposed separate collection obligations and recycling targets on the availability of feedstock to sustain the operation of new incineration plants over their lifespan (20 -30 years);

− the available capacity for co-incineration in combustion plants and in cement and lime kilns or in other suitable industrial processes; and

− planned or existing capacity in neighboring countries

2. Member States with high dedicated incineration capacity

The statistics show that some individual Member States are excessively reliant on incineration of municipal waste. This situation may be partly explained by high demand for heat through district heating networks, the higher efficiency of their waste-to-energy processes and high levels of social acceptance. Nonetheless, such high rates of incineration are inconsistent with more ambitious recycling targets. To address this problem, a number of measures can be taken at national level and have already been implemented in some Member States, in particular:

− introducing or increasing incineration taxes, especially for processes with low energy recovery while ensuring they are paired with higher landfill taxes;

− phasing out support schemes for waste incineration and, where appropriate,  redirecting support to higher-ranking processes in the waste hierarchy; and

− introducing a moratorium on new facilities and decommissioning older and less efficient ones.

The Commission calls on all Member States to take into account the guidance provided in this communication when evaluating and revising their waste management plans under EU legislation. When planning future investments on waste-to-energy capacity, it is essential that the Member States take into consideration the risk of stranded assets.

The Commission remains committed to ensuring that EU funding and other public financial support is directed towards waste treatment options that are in line with the waste hierarchy, and that priority is given to waste prevention, reuse, separate collection and recycling.

The full communication is available here.