Go the limit

With tighter emission limits set, are operators ready to respond to the new Waste Incineration BAT conclusions, asks Jennifer Stringer, technical director at RPS Group.

After a review period that has taken more than five years, the update to the 2006 Waste Incineration Best Available Techniques (BAT) Reference (WI BREF) document was finalised on 12 November 2019.

Associated with the issue of the updated WI BREF is an implementing decision1 – issued on the same date – that essentially reproduces chapter five of the updated BREF. In doing so, the BAT conclusions requirements become binding on those to whom they apply.

The scope of activities covered by the BAT conclusions (BATC)are defined as: waste incineration and co-incineration activities covered under section 5.2; and bottom ash/slag treatment activities falling under section 5.1 and 5.3 of Annex I to the Industrial Emissions Directive.2

Some notable exclusions include: co-incineration plant with the primary purpose of material production; co-incineration of non-municipal solid waste biomass; pre-treatment of waste prior to incineration/co-incineration; and incineration of gaseous waste only – these activities are covered by other BAT conclusions.

Any new facility will need to demonstrate compliance with the WI BATC for a permit to be issued, and the process for showing compliance will be managed via the application.

There are 37 BAT conclusions established within the WI BATC, covering management system requirements, operational techniques, emissions performance, emissions monitoring and energy efficiency performance. Key changes for operators include:

  • Tighter BAT-Associated Emission Limits (BAT-AELs) upper limits for emissions to air of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, dust, heavy metals, and dioxins and furans
  • A new BAT-AEL range for ammonia and dust for emissions from enclosed slag and bottom ash treatment
  • Requirements to define management and monitoring under other-than-normal operating conditions
  • The potential for continuous monitoring of mercury – previously, periodic was required
  • Tighter BAT-AEL ranges for emissions to water from wet flue gas treatment systems
  • Introduction of BAT-Associated Energy Efficiency Levels (BAT-AEELs).

Operators should note that some BAT conclusion requirements differentiate between new and existing plant; this includes differences in BAT-AEL requirements for a number of pollutants.

Within the WI BATC, new plant is defined as a plant first permitted after the publication of the BAT conclusions, or a complete replacement of a plant after publication of the BAT conclusions. Existing plant is a plant that is not a new plant.

The Industrial Emissions Directive sets a four-year timeframe for permitted activities to comply with BAT conclusions. This means, for activities subject to the WI BATC, sites will need to comply by November 2023.

Any new facility will need to demonstrate compliance with the WI BATC for a permit to be issued, and the process for showing compliance will be managed via the application. This extends to sites where applications are currently under determination but a permit has not yet been issued. Here, regulators will issue a request for further information to determine the application.

Existing plants will need to have reconsidered all existing permits and issued associated variations to ensure facilities are in compliance within the four-year timeframe. Regulators are issuing notices to operators, prompting a systematic review of their compliance against all 37 BAT conclusions.

The Environment Agency has indicated it has more than 100 existing facilities that will be subject to the WI BATC, and it will be issuing notices to operators in a phased process. The first sites were expected to receive their notices in mid-2019, with further notices being issued quarterly. Notices typically give operators six months to provide a response.

While managing regulatory workloads and those of operators with multiple sites, this phased approach will mean some sites will be preparing responses with a much tighter timeframe to deliver any modifications to bring it into compliance.

If you don’t comply with a WI BATC, there are a number of options:

  1. If you don’t currently comply, but can put in measures to bring a facility into compliance within the four-year timeframe, any changes need to be described, and a timescale set out for when compliance will be achieved.
  2. If you don’t comply but have alternative measures, operators need to demonstrate in their response how any alternative techniques will achieve a similar environmental performance.
  3. Where BAT-AELs cannot be met, you will need to request a derogation. This would need to be demonstrated by the operator in their response. To do this, you must provide sufficient technical and commercial information to demonstrate that achieving that BAT-AEL would lead to costs that are disproportionately high, compared with environmental benefits because of one or more of:
  4. the geographical location of your installation
  5. the local environmental conditions around your installation

iii. the technical characteristics of your installation.

  1. No other justification for a derogation can be considered.

On the face of it, the WI BATC seems straightforward, but the detailed interpretation and approach to application of some requirements presents uncertainties that have not been well defined through the WI BREF review process – and, in some areas, further supporting guidance is yet to be produced.


  1. Commission Implementing Decision (EU).
  2. Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 in industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control).
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