Does waste incineration play a role in a circular economy?    

The European Commission has published a new communication on the role of waste incineration in a circular economy. The purpose of the communication is to ensure an optimal energy exploitation of non-recoverable waste.

THE WASTE HIERARCHY'S IMPORTANCE TO CIRCULAR ECONOMY

The European Commission describes the waste hierarchy as a cornerstone in the EU's policy and legislation concerning waste and as an important pawn in the transition towards a circular economy. In brief, the waste hierarchy creates a prioritised order as to the management of waste, which is to help minimising any negative impacts on the environment and optimising resource efficiency in relation to prevention and management of waste.

UNEVEN DISTRIBUTION OF THE WASTE INCINERATION CAPACITY IN THE EU

The European Commission's communication was prepared based on a background memo describing the waste incineration capacity and the trade of waste in the EU. It appears from the memo that, at the moment, the distribution of the capacity in Europe is uneven. For example, Germany, France and the Netherlands jointly generate just over half of the total capacity in Europe. Denmark is also one of the leading countries in Europe as regards waste incineration. In contrast, the southern and eastern parts of the EU are almost without any incineration capacity. But from the broad perspective, the EU as a whole does not have an excess incineration capacity.

DIFFERENT MEMBER STATES' FUTURE STRATEGIES

The European Commission urges all member states to take into consideration the guidelines in the new communication when evaluating and planning future investments in waste incineration.

As regards those member states that have a high share of the incineration capacity, the European Commission emphasises that this high incineration may be contrary to the ambition of a high recycling level, and the European Commission therefore recommends that these member states charge or increase the charges on waste for incineration and introduce a respite for new facilities and closing of old and less effective plants.

WASTE INCINERATION'S ROLE IN THE FUTURE

Finally, the European Commission concludes in the communication that waste incineration processes play an important role in the transition to a circular economy provided that the waste hierarchy is applied as a governing principle, and that the member states' choices do not counter the objectives concerning recycling and reuse. Consequently, the member states must maintain and comply with the waste hierarchy.

According to the European Commission, the highest priority is to obtain the waste management possibilities that provide the best environmental "outcome". The European Commission is therefore open to some kind of flexibility in relation to the application of the waste hierarchy.

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