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Energy recovery push ‘should cover’ commercial and industrial waste

16 Jun 2016

Focusing on municipal waste alone in the waste-to-energy agenda could work against the transition to circular economy, FEAD said

The European Commission’s plan to boost energy recovery from non-recyclable municipal waste should extend to the commercial and industrial streams, say waste industry representatives and NGOs.

The potential of recovering energy from commercial and industrial waste was addressed by the Commission’s own research body JRC, but the legislator excluded them from its Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Roadmap published in February and focused only on the municipal stream.

In a position paper published this week, the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD) urges the Commission to include commercial and industrial was in a communication on WtE it will unveil before the end of the year.

According to the industry group, a failure to do so would rob the EU of a “much larger” pool of WtE resources than municipal waste and prevent the transition to a truly circular economy.

Stephane Arditi, policy manager at green group EEB, warned that keeping the three waste streams separate could require a swathe of new specific WtE plants to be built. This, he argued, could make processes such as incineration cheaper – and hence more desirable – than alternatives further up the waste hierarchy such as recycling and prevention.

Beyond WtE, the absence of commercial and industrial waste from the EU’s latest circular economy package has sparked unease among MEPs and industry lobbies. Proposed binding targets for recycling and landfill apply to municipal waste alone.

In its Roadmap, the Commission said the EU’s WtE network could be made more efficient  via the existing market for waste shipments. For example, countries in south-east Europe with few incineration plants send refuse-derived waste to those with over-capacity, such as Sweden, Denmark and Estonia.

But FEAD says that, although waste shipments could provide a temporary solution to the imbalance, they will not fully tackle it. The priority, it says, should be to set up new sorting and recycling plants in countries with high landfilling rates to help build capacity.

In addition, both FEAD and EEB cautioned against favouring any existing WtE technologies – such as incineration, biogas from anaerobic digestion and from landfill – over others and asked the Commission to treat them all equally, provided they do not go against the waste hierarchy.

Follow-up: FEAD Position paper