European Commission keeps wasting energy on “waste-to-energy”
Ferran Rosa, Policy Officer
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 wasteonly non-recyclable materials and the solution to them isn’t burning, but re-design to make them fit into the circular economy.
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
A group of citizens from Debagoiena held a press conference on February 16 in front of the Community of Debagoiena with the slogan “Landfill no!”. Among people who took part were members of Zero Waste Gipuzkoa (Zero Zabor).
They emphasized that Debagoiena is separately collecting 80% of their waste, while the rest of the municipalities reach under 50% separate collection, this is why they have underlined that they will start speaking about “solidarity” when “others start to be responsible”.
They will not accept receiving mixed waste in Debagoiena and they demand Debagoiena municipality refuses the landfill project in Epele. Their aim is to create a regional proponent to work in order to fulfil these goals.
In the press conference, they have said the following:
“Most of the waste which is not recycled or composted in Gipuzkoa is going to be thrown without any treatment in Debagoiena. 100,000 tons of mixed waste will be brought to our region, while within Debagoiena we are generating only 5,000 tons of waste.
We know that these kind of landfills create many problems, both in terms of health and environment: bad smells, an increase of rats and scavenger birds, the coming and goings of large lorries, methane, large amounts of land taken over, pollution of streams and aquifers due to leaching…
The solution is not to build an expensive and polluting infrastructure, the example of Debagoiena is a role model for a healthy solution. Our region is doing things well, important organisations have congratulated us and we have become a reference point in Europe because we have recycled 78% of our waste. But we haven’t got this results out of respect for the environment.
We have got it due to compulsory separate collection (with containers in some places and with cubes in others) and we think the results are improvable. If only Gipuzkoa would recycle the same percentage, things would be completely different and we would not need toxic incinerators or polluter landfills.”
Since 2006 the seven municipalities of the lower Međimurje (The City of Prelog and the municipalities of Kotoriba, Donja Dubrava, Donji Vidovec, Sveta Marija, Goričan and Donji Kraljevec) have been developing a joint waste management system. Organised by the municipally owned company Pre-Kom, waste has been separately collected in the region since 2007. With the region currently ranked top in terms of separate collection within Croatia, it seemed the next logical step was the creation of a society without waste, or the implementation of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’.
Zero Waste 2020 commitments
By the adoption of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the municipalities of the region have committed to meeting the following waste management conditions by 2020:
70% of useful waste to be extracted, processed and recovered (recycling, composting, anaerobic processing, or other acceptable means of useful waste recovery) through separate waste collection.
The amount of bulky waste and combined waste will be reduced from the current (2015) level of 98.8 kilograms per capita per year to 50 kilograms per capita per year by 2020.
The priorities in the field of waste management (prevention of waste, reuse and recycling) will be reinforced to the fullest extent, waste incineration will be avoided, the amount of waste deposited on landfills will be reduced to the lowest possible level.
An analysis of useless waste will be conducted yearly, and an operative strategy and campaigns for further improvement in waste management will be defined based on the results of the analysis.
In addition to the initiated activities in waste management, and according to Waste management plans of municipalities of lower Međimurje, the municipalities commit to start and take part in the following activities:
Organising educational sessions related to sustainable development and waste management and to promote the zero waste development strategy.
Work on projects related to reuse of the collected waste (clothing, shoes, etc.).
Promote separate waste collection of biodegradable communal waste and the composting of it.
Promote the use of compost given back to users.
Promote increasing the amount of households included in the waste management system.
Introduce a billing system based on the volume of collected waste.
Start projects on all levels of development, or public and private initiatives in order to secure improvement of living standards and sustainable development in their areas.
Encourage green construction using environmentally friendly materials.
Take part in sustainable mobility (car sharing, walking, bus transport, etc.).
Promote new lifestyles (tourism, catering, Fair trade commerce, etc.).
In order to track their progress, the municipalities have formed the ‘Council for Waste Management in Lower Međimurje’ which will track the fulfilment of the goals of the international strategy for “Zero waste”, this council will consist of:
The president of the Council is a Director of PRE-KOM, and the council will meet at least once every six months.
In adopting a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the region of Lower Međimurje will join an international community of municipalities moving towards zero waste. This community includes; New Zealand (the first country in the world to include the Strategy in its national legislation), New Scotia, British Columbia in Canada, Buenos Aires in Argentina, San Francisco in California, Canberra in Australia and many other local communities, regions and cities across the EU.
The municipalities of lower Međimurje are becoming a key example of good practice in waste management, and an exemplary model for other local communities in Croatia and around the world in the struggle towards a zero waste society.
Current waste management practices & infrastructure
In the area of lower Mešimurje, mixed communal waste is collected in black containers, biodegradable communal waste is collected in brown containers, bulky waste is collected after a phone call, paper and carton are collected in blue containers or bags, plastics in yellow containers or bags and metal and glass are collected in free bags. Aside from the gathering infrastructure, Pre-Kom. manages a composting plant, a sorting plant and a recycling yard.
Amounts of bulky and mixed communal waste disposed on a landfill per household:
2011 2,888 t — 424 kilograms per household (128.5 kg per capita)
2012 2,801 t — 409 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2013 2,794 t — 407 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2014 2,862 t — 412 kilograms per household (124.8 kg per capita)
2015 2,299 t — 326 kilograms per household (98.9 kg per capita)
Amount of separately collected, processed and recovered waste:
2011 16.93 %
2012 19.04 %
2013 19.63 %
2014 22.39 %
2015 49.58 %
By completion of the separate waste collection system and by introducing containers for biodegradable waste, Pre-Kom. has already significantly increased the amount of separately collected waste in 2015, compared to 2014. Analysis show an increase in other materials collected separately door-to-door. In 2015, 49,58% of waste has been collected and processed separately, which is a better than EU average of 43%. The results weren’t achieved quickly, they were achieved by continual investments and upgrades to the waste management system.
Considering what has already been achieved, municipalities of lower Međimurje aspire to demonstrate some of the best waste management practices in the world and to lead the way a zero waste society.
On Wednesday 24 February, representatives of the city of Prelog and six surrounding municipalities signed the European “Zero Waste 2020” strategy at a conference in Prelog organised by NGO Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia and the communal waste company PRE-KOM. In signing the strategy, the local authorities – which are already leaders in sustainable waste management in Croatia – have committed to meet the ambitious goal of 70% separately collected waste by 2020.
Attendees at the conference included Minister of Environmental and Nature Protection Slaven Dobrović, Assistant Minister Lidija Runko Luttenberger, head of the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund Sven Muller, the Assistant Minister for Enterprise and Trade, the Head of Međimurje County, relevant Mayors, Heads of Districts, communal companies and representative of Zero Waste Europe. 18 NGOs from the Zero Waste Croatia* network were also present. After the conference the NGOs met with Assistant Minister Luttenberger on the topic of advancing sustainable waste management in Croatia.
The seven local authorities in Lower Međimurje for whom Zelena akcija / FoE Croatia drew up recommendations (the city of Prelog, and the districts of Goričan, Donji Kraljevec, Sveta Marija, Donji Vidovec, Donja Dubrava and Kotoriba, with altogether more than 25 000 inhabitants) managed to separately collect more than 50% of waste in 2015. As this moved them to the top of the league tables for separate waste collection and recycling in Croatia, signing on to the international Zero Waste 2020 strategy was a logical next step.
Siniša Radiković, Director of PRE-KOM commented:
“Our wish, by accepting this strategy and implementing Zelena akcija’s recommendations, is to separately collect and treat 70% of useful waste by 2020, landfill less than 30%, and reduce the amount of landfilled waste to less than 50 kg per inhabitant per year, which is in the range of the most successful cities and districts in the world”.
Slaven Dobrović, Minister of Environment and Nature Protection said:
“Thank you for making our task easier, and that is to continue changing waste management policy in the Republic of Croatia. Until now the policy has been to mix and burn waste – thank you because you have shown that another way is possible”.
Erika Oblak, representative of the Zero Waste Europe network and Zero Waste Slovenia co-ordinator emphasized that:
“According to the experience of many zero waste communities in the world, three ingredients are needed for success: political support, good management and commitment to meeting ever higher targets. The town of Prelog and the surrounding districts have shown that they have all these ingredients. I hope that other communities in Croatia will soon join them, to the benefit of their inhabitants and the environment.”
Bernard Ivčić, president of Zelena akcija (Friends of the Earth Croatia) said:
“Lower Međimurje has shown that in a relatively short period of time it is possible to create a good quality waste management system and become a good example for others. I’m proud that Zelena akcija contributed to this success with its analysis. This shows that NGOs have relevant knowledge and that when the authorities are ready to listen to well-argued recommendations, significant results can be achieved”.
In order to enable the commitments in the Strategy, the Lower Međimurje Waste Management Council was formed, which will include the local waste management companies along with Zelena akcija. Together with Zero Waste Europe, Zelena akcija will monitor progress towards the targets and assist with implementation of the measures to prevent, re-use and recycle waste.
At the meeting of the Zero Waste Croatia network with Assistant Minister, Marko Košak, Waste Managament Programme coordinator in Zelena akcija and Zero Waste Croatia network presented the current situation with waste management in Croatia. Erika Oblak from Zero Waste Europe presented the Zero Waste Europe network and successes by particular cities and districts. Ms Luttenberger presented the priorities of the Ministry for Environment and Nature Protection with regard to implementing a good quality waste management system. The NGOs provided comments on problems with the system and suggestions for the planned new national Waste Management Plan for the period until 2021.
The main message from the NGOs was that the new plan needs to ensure a long-awaited shift from mixing and burning waste to reducing, re-using, separating and recycling waste, as done by Prelog and neighbouring districts. The Assistant Minister clearly stated that the Ministry will ensure that the system is changed for the benefit of people and the environment, and that environmental organizations will have an important role in this process. A similar sentiment was expressed by Minister Dobrović during the conference “The problem in Croatia is large and I therefore welcome NGOs which actively work on the promotion of the zero waste concept. We all have a common task and even if it has not been like that until now, from now on problems will be resolved by sitting together around the table and all suggestions will be examined.”
Zelena akcija believes that the city of Prelog will achieve its ambitious targets by 2020 with the implementation of the proposed measures. We hope that other communal waste companies, with expert assistance from NGOs and support from the Ministry and Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency, will also advance their waste management systems according to Lower Međimurje’s example and satisfy the needs of both residents and the environment.
Further information on their strategy and commitments for 2020 can be found here.
We, the undersigned, support the aspirations of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package to create a Europe that can dramatically cut its food waste. There are positive elements within the legislative proposal on waste and the Action Plan which we would like to commend, such as commitments to improve date marking and to develop a common food waste measurement methodology.
However, we wish to express our concern over the removal of a European Union-specific reduction target for food waste, coming in spite of the European Commission’s promise of a more ambitious Package than the previous, withdrawn in December 2014. We acknowledge that this target has been replaced by compulsory actions for Member States to measure and report on their country’s national food waste statistics, and to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030, but believe these actions in their current form will not result in concrete change and a significant reduction in waste at all levels.
We propose the following recommendations for implementation of robust action on food waste within the Circular Economy Package:
Re-introduction of an EU-specific food waste reduction target of at least 30%, and accounting forfood waste over the full supply chain
Inclusion of farm-to-fork food waste measurement, including pre-farm gate waste, with a roadmap for bringing in targets for pre-farm gate waste by 2020.
Embedding of the Food Waste Hierarchy in all food waste reduction measures and allowing diversion of food waste to livestock feed
1) An EU-specific food waste target and accounting for food waste over the full supply chain
The previous proposal of an EU-specific target of reducing food waste by 30% by 2025 offered Member States a concrete national goal to work towards and gave a clear signal on the importance and urgency for action. It is vital that this binding obligation is reintroduced in the final package to tackle the immense scale of food waste in the EU. We need the EU to show leadership by setting a clear target for reduction and ensuring governments and industry across Europe take action on food waste.
The current Package’s adoption of the UN SDG for food waste is not strong enough, as it will account for only consumer and retail level food waste. This is in spite of the 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report Food Losses and Food Waste estimating that approximately 180kg of the 280kg/year (64%) of food lost and wasted per capita in Europe occurs between production and retail stages. The majority of this supply chain loss and waste occurs at pre-farm gate and manufacturing levels, and so it is vital that theseelements of the chain be included in ambitious targets for reduction. Moreover, since food waste is often more concentrated in a few corporations rather than diffused across millions of consumers, there are significant opportunities to tackle food waste in businesses.
We therefore urge that the overall target of a 30% reduction in food waste by 2025 be reintroduced, taking into account farm to fork measurement as detailed below. We request that the Commission provides concrete plans to show how this reduction might be achieved with a proportional focus across the supply chain.
2) Farm-to-fork measurement
We recommend that the commitment in the Circular Economy Package to adopt an implementing act to establish a common methodology for the measurement of food waste in 2016 takes into account waste from farm-to-fork, including food waste occurring pre farm gate, and sets standards for compulsory food waste measurement and reporting in all Member States. We understand that the EU has already committed to develop a common measurement methodology this year. We urge that these measurement and reporting efforts be built upon definitional frameworks and common measurement and reporting methodologies which apply across the supply chain, from farm to fork – such as those currently being developed by EU FUSIONS and the World Resources Institute’s Food Loss and Waste Protocol.
A substantial proportion of Europe’s food waste occurs at the pre-farm gate level in the agricultural sector. The FAO estimates that 20% of fruit and vegetables are wasted at this level, more than anywhere else in the supply chain. Much of this waste is as a result of retail practices, including cosmetic standards and last-minute order cancellations, requiring strong action by Member States to ensure that retailers take responsibility for, and action on, these damaging commercial practices.
Due to the lack of quality data on pre-farm gate food waste at Member State level, it is necessary for trial studies to be conducted in order to research and test a robust methodology before being rolled out. Pioneering studies in the UK by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in their upcoming work as part of Courtauld 2025 can provide as useful guidance in this area.
We recommend that a staged plan of action, as part of both the legislative proposal on waste and the Circular Economy Action Plan, and in line with committed actions on establishing a common measurement methodology for food waste, be developed to initiate these trials and schedule their rolling out across Europe. In addition to contributing to full supply-chain food waste reduction as part of a circular economy, it will ensure that benchmarking of pre-farm gate food waste can be completed by the next EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) review in 2020. We recommend that, once benchmarked, specific targets be set within the overall minimum 30 per cent target for the reduction of pre-farm gate food waste in 2020.
3) Food waste hierarchy and diversion of food waste to livestock feed
The food waste hierarchy follows the principles of the waste hierarchy enshrined in the EU Waste Framework Directive. It prioritises (1) reduction at source (2) redistribution for human consumption (3) diversion to livestock feed for any food surplus unfit for human consumption (if legally permitted) (4) anaerobic digestion and compost, and (5) landfill and incineration as a last resort. Although cultural and geographical contexts need to be considered, this is a guide for the environmentally and socially optimal use of food surplus. The food waste hierarchy needs to be referenced in Article 9 of the legislation on waste.
With regards to the diversion of food waste to livestock feed, we further call on the Commission to review the ban on feeding catering waste to non-ruminant livestock and bring in legislative changes in this area. According to a new study by the University of Cambridge, removing the ban on feeding catering waste, or swill, to pigs would save 1.8 million hectares of land – half the land mass of Germany – whilst providing a use for 100 million tonnes of food waste in Europe every year 1.
Harnessing new food waste sterilisation technologies at an industrial level would not only guarantee the microbiological safety of animal feed, but would also generate new jobs and investment opportunities. We support the commitment to creating a true circular economy in Europe and to reduce food waste, and hope our recommendations will be taken on board to ensure that this happens.
Contact: Kierra Box, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Supporters of this position paper:
This Is Rubbish
Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland