Invest in additional European waste-to-energy capacity ‘only if needed’, says CEWEP

The need for waste-to-energy (WtE) depends on the amount of unavoidable unrecyclable waste that society produces, says CEWEP.

The Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) says it ‘firmly believes’ that investment in new or expanded WtE capacity should only take place in ‘well justified cases’, in full respect of the waste hierarchy.

The European Parliament’s Plenary Session will discuss the Report on the New Circular Economy Action Plan today (8 February) and will vote on it on Tuesday (9 February).

The drafted text makes a suggestion to “avoid building overcapacity of waste incineration at the EU level that could cause lock-in effects and hamper the development of the circular economy”.

In response, CEWEP has said said the waste to energy plants are there to ‘serve’ the European society by treating the unavoidable unrecyclable waste and this way enabling the circular economy.

It says the number of plants and their capacities are ‘carefully assessed’ to treat the amounts of residual waste produced by households, businesses, industry as well as rejects from the sorting and recycling facilities.

CEWEP firmly believes that investment in new or expanded WtE capacity should only take place in well justified cases

“CEWEP firmly believes that investment in new or expanded WtE capacity should only take place in well justified cases, in full respect of the waste hierarchy. Our members are very carefully assessing the market before making any investment decisions”, said CEWEP’s President Paul De Bruycker.

“Our members are very carefully assessing the market before making any investment decisions.”

In the last years, when discussing WtE for residual waste treatment, the notion of ‘lock-in’ effect has often come up, suggesting that once a WtE plant is built, the surrounding regions will be inclined to recycle less and instead bring more waste to the WtE plant.

In response to that CEWEP has reiterated its support for responsible capacity planning that makes sure that no so-called ‘lock-in effect’ is created by WtE.

There is currently no overcapacity of WtE on the European level, it says, but says on the local level there is sometimes more WtE capacity available than domestically needed.

‘Important tool’

CEWEP says this is due to historical decisions based on forecasts for increased waste generation and the fact that WtE is an ‘important tool’ for landfill diversion and sustainable local energy production, roles that remain important today.

The EU waste law that clearly sets ambitious targets for source separation and recycling has become a game-changer for waste treatment capacity planning. While it was difficult to have a good overview in the past, better forecasts can now be made for the capacities needed to treat the residual waste, CEWEP says.

Today, public and private investors (who are also often owners of recycling and other waste treatment facilities) have the ‘right tools’ to make safe and sustainable investments, it says, as the EU legislation provides them with ‘solid information’ and predictability of what is and will be available as feedstock for their investment.

The efforts for waste prevention, source separation and recycling as well as landfill diversion as set in the EU waste targets must be considered ‘appropriately’ in the national/regional waste management plans, which are the basis for permits for WtE, it says.

CEWEP says it’s important to note that within the circular economy, WtE capacity needs can only be judged by taking the whole feedstock into account. This is residual municipal waste as well as commercial and industrial waste. Furthermore, it says that a growing emphasis on quality recycling means more rejects from recycling and sorting facilities.

‘All these ‘unrecyclable waste streams’ need secure, reliable and affordable treatment to avoid pollution spreading – a sanitary task that WtE fulfills,’ it says. ‘The only alternative for these waste streams would be landfilling, the last resort.’

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