EU’s residual waste policy needs ‘radical improvement’ – Zero Waste Europe

New research published this week (12 October) by Zero Waste Europe suggests that a ‘radical improvement’ of the EU residual waste policy is needed to make it fit for a circular, carbon-free economy.

The Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) research, Rethinking the EU Landfill Target, looked at the European Union’s (EU) residual waste policy and suggests its current policy ‘favours incineration’ as a way for dealing with residual waste. ZWE says this is ‘unwarranted’.

The study was conducted by Equanimator and it suggests there is a lack of ‘unequivocal evidence’ in support of the ‘incineration heavy strategy’, referring to evidence from various studies, including some funded by the European Commission.

Unless reversed, the current bias for incineration will play against the circular economy and EU’s efforts to fight climate change

The study suggests the impacts of the current strategy for managing residual waste will impact on the potential for moving waste further up the hierarchy, into prevention and recycling. It also suggests there is an ‘incompatibility’ between the current EU residual waste strategy and the climate agenda.

The report states that EU policy should reflect new knowledge and evidence, and not be based on a ‘dogmatic view’ regarding one or another technology.

Zero Waste Europe’s Janek Vahk said: “The prime focus of the EU policy as regards residual waste should be on reduction of waste and emissions. As of today, it focuses on moving waste from landfill into incineration without any justifiable backing.

“Unless reversed, the current bias for incineration will play against the circular economy and EU’s efforts to fight climate change.”

‘Sound management’

Zero Waste Europe has called for a package of measures to ensure a ‘sound management of residual waste’ and to support the ambition of the EU’s Green Deal.

These include:

  • Elaborating a clear definition of ‘treatment’ to define this as ‘treatment of waste prior to landfilling’
  • Acknowledging, in the Landfill Directive, that waste which has been treated is to be regarded as ‘no longer biodegradable’
  • Removing the R1 formula in Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive so that municipal waste incineration is no longer able to be classified as ‘recovery’
  • Amending the municipal waste landfill minimisation target from the current 10% landfill target by 2035 to a target of 0% of municipal waste landfilled without prior treatment
  • Mandating the use of mixed waste sorting systems of a defined quality at the front of all new incineration plants, and those which have been operational for less than ten years
  • Establishing a target to reduce residual municipal waste to less than 175kg/inh, to be achieved on the same schedule as the existing Waste Framework Directive recycling targets
  • Including incineration facilities within the EU-ETS as a means to encourage progress in the quality of sorting systems for removing plastics from the mixed waste

ZWE says these policy changes will ‘significantly improve’ the climate change emissions associated with the management of waste, and ensure ‘better alignment’ between planning and the project fostering a more circular economy.

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