In December 2015, the European Commission launched the Circular Economy Package, which aims to bring a major shift in waste management, product and process design policies and consumption patterns that minimize the landfill and incineration of waste. Less than two months after, on Thursday February 4, the European Commission presented the Roadmap for the Communication on Waste to Energy, which sets the scope and terms for the Communication on waste-to-energy that will be published later on in 2016. As we read through it, this roadmap is a worrying step on four counts.
Firstly, the European Commission refers in this roadmap to non-recyclable waste as the perfect feed for an incinerator. However, no definition of non-recyclable waste can be found in the Waste Framework Directive or in the new proposal. The Commission mixes up non-recyclable waste with mixed waste, and while it’s true that mixed waste can’t be easily recycled, these are two different things.
While mixed waste is a problem of separate collection; non-recyclable waste is mostly a problem of product design. If properly separated, there’s no non-recyclable waste only non-recyclable materials and the solution to them isn’t burning, but re-design to make them fit into the circular economy.
Secondly, this road-map especially worrying because it ignores the role of civil society and local governments, as the Commission aims at consulting only Member States’ regulators, “waste-to-energy” plant operators, RDF producers, the recycling industry and other waste burning industries (chiefly cement kilns). Neither municipalities, nor NGOs are included in the list, despite the fact that waste incineration remains highly contested from NGOs to local neighbourhood associations and resident groups, citing a wide range of concerns from health and environmental issues to financial problems.
Moreover, it is worrying because it doesn’t include a clear roadmap on how to tackle existing over-capacities and, actually pushes for more inflexible facilities requiring long-time investment, such as district heating. It ignores that in a circular economy, disposal facilities should instead be flexible, allowing waste managers to adapt progressively to higher recycling rates and lower levels of waste production. Linking houses’ heating system to residual waste generation through very expensive long-term facilities isn’t the best incentive to promote reduction, reuse and recycling
Finally, granting so called “waste-to-energy” a role of within the Energy Union, is everything but doing a favour for the climate, since “waste-to-energy” is one of the most polluting, expensive, and inefficient forms of energy production available today. Burning waste will not contribute to secure energy supply, nor to the promotion of clean renewable energy to secure the reduction of our carbon footprint and the mitigation of climate change
Unfortunately this isn’t a systemic change, just more of the same.