Monthly Archives: April 2017

Future and financing waste-to-energy

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been granted 5.4 billion euro by the European Commission from the Cohesion and European Regional Development Fund to improve waste management systems for the period 2014-2020. The partnership agreements between the Commission and governments had been signed before the circular economy package was issued and established new and more progressive priorities for the management of waste by the Member States. However, while the agreements highlight that the financial support under the cohesion policy should be directed first of all to the development of selective waste collection and construction of infrastructure for recycling, they also allocate over 50 per cent of available money for “thermal treatment, incineration”. This caused CEE authorities to consider constructing over 80 waste incinerators (combined capacity over 5.42 million tonnes/a), and approximately 40 mechanical biological treatment facilities (MBT; combined capacity over 3.29 million tonnes/a)[1]. These investments may consume most available funds, and slow down, or maybe even block for years, implementation of a progressive waste reduction and recycling system.

Large scale investments into MBTs, waste incinerators, and other semi-innovative techniques based on unsorted municipal solid waste, have always led to conservation and locking in of systems based on co-mingled waste collection, and low recycling rates. It could be no different in CEE countries where average recycling rates are at 18 per cent and composting at 5 per cent. Slovenia is the only exception, where there has been substantial progress to reach 49 per cent recycling and 12 per cent composting, thanks to the wide implementation of zero waste methodologies.

Most CEE countries still have low or no incineration capacity, which provides a great opportunity to invest into systems that are less costly, and have much less impact on the health of society and the environment. These are systems focused on waste prevention, re-use, separate collection and recycling. The systems must be flexible and ready to accept increasing amounts of recyclables, which will be expected in a future as a result of higher recycling targets set by waste legislation within the Circular Economy package.

This opportunity has been recognized by the European Commission in recent communications:

Public funding should also avoid creating overcapacity for non-recyclable waste treatment such as incinerators. In this respect it should be borne in mind that mixed waste as a feedstock for waste-to-energy processes is expected to fall as a result of separate collection obligations and more ambitious EU recycling targets. For these reasons, Member States are advised to gradually phase-out public support for the recovery of energy from mixed waste[2].

and

[…] funding for new facilities for the treatment of residual waste, such as incineration or mechanical biological treatment, will be granted only in limited and well justified cases, where there is no risk of overcapacity and the objectives of the waste hierarchy are fully respected.[3]

Therefore the undersigned organizations call the Central and Eastern European governments as well as European institutions such as the European Investment Bank[4] and JASPERS to not assist and grant projects for the construction of waste incinerators and MBTs from public funds but instead to support investments into prevention, separate waste collection and recycling: a system which is coherent with circular economy priorities and targets.

Posted by neevalex

Why the current Renewable Energy proposal is flawed, and how to fix it

The Renewable Energy Directive is under review. In November 2016, the European Commission published a legislative proposal which establishes a common framework for the promotion of energy from renewable sources. In addition, the document defines a set of sustainability criteria that biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels, except from municipal and industrial waste and residues, must fulfil to be eligible for financial support or count towards renewable energy target. However, the Commission’s proposal is far from optimal, and here is why.

Subverting the waste hierarchy

Similarly to the current Directive, the proposal defines the biodegradable fraction of municipal waste as a source of renewable energy. Member States are consequently allowed to support various forms of waste-to-energy processes, both from the separately collected organics and from the mixed municipal and industrial waste, to meet targets set under the Directive.

Such support schemes which promote energy generation from mixed municipal waste[1] are inconsistent with the cornerstone of the EU waste policy the waste hierarchy. The primary purpose of the waste hierarchy is to reduce waste generation at source, and to divert materials to re-use and recycling in order to minimise the amounts of waste going to other recovery (energy recovery) and disposal (landfill).  Waste is therefore meant to be primarily prevented, then prepared for reuse, and then recycled.

Figure 1. The waste hierarchy and waste-to-energy processes. Source: Communication from the Commission on the role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy.

Conversely, by allowing renewable energy support measures for the energy recovery from mixed municipal waste, the current proposal is actually promoting the second least desirable option of the waste hierarchy.

Distorting the market

This subversion has so far resulted in a clear distortion of the market, whereby investment in waste infrastructure and operation costs are organised on the basis of subsidies for the extraction of energy from mixed waste, instead of sound environmental and economic performance. As a result, several Member States have overinvested in waste-to-energy plants, whilst underinvesting in separate collection and recycling facilities for the organics and recyclables. In fact, according to the European Environment Agency, there has been no increase in organics recycling over the last years. This was confirmed by a recent survey by the European Compost Network which indicated that only about a third of organics is separately collectedand composted and/or digested.

Moreover, financial support for energy from mixed waste has risulted in renewable energy subsidies financing waste-to-energy processes, such as incineration and co-incineration, that are contributing rather than mitigating climate change (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Indicative Climate Change Impacts of Key Waste Key Waste Management Activities (excl. CO2 from biogenic sources). Source: Eunomia, The contribution of waste management to a low-carbon economy, 2015.

What can the European Parliament and Council do?  2 concrete solutions

Fortunately, the European Parliament and the Council can still make a difference and amend the flaws of the actual proposal by taking two concrete steps.

Firstly, they could introduce a derogation to explicitly exclude any finacial support to the extraction of energy from mixed municipal waste.

Secondly, they could set new sustainability criteria to ensure that the use of waste and residues for energy purposes is strictly guided by the waste hierarchy, so that only the separately collected biowaste are used for energy generation. These measures would foster the improvement of separate collection of organics in the EU, while at same time promoting the generation of truly sustainable energy. In addition, they would be in line with the recent Commission’s communication on “The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy”, which recommends Member States to phase-out public support for the recovery of energy from waste, as well as with the separate collection obligations and more ambitious EU recycling targets included in the legislative proposal on Circular Economy.

[1] Mixed waste (residual waste) is mainly composed of food and kitchen waste, plastics, and paper.

Posted by neevalex

10 steps to zero waste, 20 infographics by Italian students.

In January Rossano Ercolini, Zero Waste Europe president, held a workshop on the “10 Steps to Zero Waste” at the Salesiani high school of Bologna. Two classes from the Graphic Design course took part in the workshop and started working to create new infographics which would summarise the Zero Waste Strategy. The students worked in small groups of three people over three months to create the designs. These workshops, bringing zero waste ideas to students in high school serve to ensure that the next generation of leaders have a strong understanding of how we need to redesign our relationship with resources, and waste.

The Zero Waste Italy’s and Zero Waste Research Centre’s staff will nominate the most graphically pleasing 7 infographics of the 20 that students designed and will then exhibit them in their Capannori office. Among the 7 posters they will award one which will become the new official Zero Waste Italy’s infographic about the ‘10 Steps to Zero Waste’.

Check out Paul Connett’s presentation on the ‘10 steps to Zero Waste’ for more information about the content of the infographics.

Stay tuned for the winning nominations being released next week!

Zero Waste Europe,  would like to take the chance to congratulate and thank the students and the teachers who worked on this project for creating these amazing works and for embracing the Zero Waste principles!

Posted by neevalex