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Recycling and Waste-to-Energy – together reducing CO2


27 Mar 2008


Climate & Environment

Waste-to-Energy capacity also needed for residues from recycling

More recycling and Waste-to-Energy (WtE) will reduce net Green House Gas emissions.

This is the conclusion of three recently published studies:

A new briefing released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) states:

“Increased recovery of waste and diverting waste away from landfill play a key role in tackling the environmental impacts of increasing waste volumes. As recycling and incineration with energy recovery are increasingly used, net greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste management are expected to drop considerably by 2020.”

Also a recent study by Ökopol calculated that further 89 million tonnes of CO2equ could be saved per year assuming a recycling scenario of 50% + for municipal waste together with an increase in the average incineration rate to 25% (from 18% in 2005). This scenario is based on a reduction of landfilling to 22% (from 45% in 2005) in EU 27.

In another study, FFact calculated the CO2 equivalent savings if European waste management achieved 60% recycling with the remaining 40% of municipal waste, which cannot be recycled in an environmentally sound way, being treated in efficient Waste-to-Energy Plants.
Generating energy from this waste instead of sending it to landfill avoids methane (landfill gas) which equals 23 times CO2. In combination with the application of the ambitious energy efficiency thresholds that were proposed by the Commission and adopted by the Council in Annex II, R1 (formula) in the Waste Framework Directive, this could prevent up to a further 45 million tonnes of CO2equ per year.

This corresponds to the annual emissions of over 20 million cars.

Such a reduction in CO2 emissions could occur if Waste-to-Energy plants are classified as energy recovery by achieving these energy efficiency thresholds. Efficient WtE plants should not be classified as disposal – the same level as landfill.

Giving efficient WtE plants priority over landfilling will not hamper recycling as recycling is clearly higher up the waste hierarchy than energy recovery. Taking into account the fact that not all municipal waste is suitable for recycling, waste that can be separated easily at source should be recycled, the remaining residual waste should be transformed into energy in WtE plants, instead of buried in landfills.

Countries that have most successfully reduced dependence on landfill (5% and lower) have the highest recycling rates in Europe, and have achieved this in combination with WtE (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden), proving that recycling and energy from waste which cannot be recycled properly go hand in hand in order to divert waste from landfills.

In order to achieve this success long-term capacity planning for both, recycling and WtE is necessary. WtE capacity is also needed to treat residues from recycling.

The optimum combination of recycling and WtE saves primary energy sources, combats climate change and helps to secure EU energy supply.

Acknowledging that recycling and WtE, both are essential pillars to steer waste from the last ladder, we hope that the European Parliament votes for efficient energy recovery (R1 formula in Annex II) in the Waste Framework Directive, recognizing WtE’s place in the waste hierarchy below recycling, but definitely above landfilling.

For further information please contact:
Dr. Ella Stengler, Managing Director
CEWEP – Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants
Tel.: +32 2 770 6311 or