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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

The dirty business of waste-to-energy subsidies: a story from Bilbao

Subsidized energy production from not-entirely-renewable resources in Bilbao

What is happening in Bilbao, Spain, is a real scam: millions of euro from public funds for renewable energy are allocated to an incineration facility that burns fossil natural gas alongside mixed waste.

This is not an isolated case: due to an untransparent and arbitrary calculation method, an obsolete technology and the lack of an appropriate normative framework, it is not uncommon for renewable energy subsidies to end up financing a dirty-but-extremely-profitable business.

Members of the ITRE committee in the European Parliament can fix this system  on 28th November, by voting to exclude subsidies for mixed/residual waste from the new EU Directive on renewable energy. Zero Waste Europe & partner organisations sent them a letter to urge them to take action.

The story from Bilbao is one for all example of what is wrong with renewable energy subsidies to waste to energy, and with illegal practices all around Europe.

The dirty business of Zabalgarbi, Bilbao

The waste incineration facility of Zabalgarbi (Bilbao) has received as much as 20M€ per year to produce heat and energy from fossil resources, namely mixed waste and natural gas. The situation was even worse from November 2005 through April 2007. During those 17 months the incinerator experienced a severe failure that impeded  the recovery of energy, but Zabalgarbi continued receiving feed-in tariffs for the electricity: around 9 M€.

Gorka Bueno Mendieta, Professor of the Higher School of Engineering of the University of the Basque Country (EHU/UPV) has been denouncing the scam of Zabalgarbi for a long time. In an independent report, he states that “although less than 20% of the electricity generated (by the plant)  is of renewable origin – 37% comes from mixed waste and more than 60% comes from natural gas every MWh generated – Zabalgarbi is rewarded with feed-in tariffs”. Most of the electricity generated in Zabalgarbi actually comes from natural gas.

Much worryingly, that fact is acknowledged by Zabalgarbi and the administration. On October 16, Josu Juaristi Abaunz, MEP from the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, tabled a parliamentary question demanding the European Commission to investigate.  

What is renewable and what is not

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) establishes a normative framework allowing Member States may decide whether or not  to subsidise the production of energy from renewable sources.

According to the directive, the term “renewable energy sources” covers among other things “biomass”, that is to say the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste. Unfortunately, the rules to calculate the percentage of organics fraction of municipal waste are non transparent and quite arbitrary. Since the industry is self-regulating, the question for which nobody has the answer is exactly the real amount we are talking about.

Moreover, the the amount of organic waste versus the amount fossil-based waste in the mixed wastes is both logistically and technologically hard to measure. It’s often assumed that the proportion is 50%. Given the heterogeneity of waste and the great differences from plant to plant, this percentage is neither constant nor reliable, which supports the evidence that much of the so-called renewable energy from waste-to-energy comes in fact from incinerating fossil carbon based materials i.e. plastics.

Unsurprisingly, wherever there is a demand, there will be a supply. This is how waste became a commodity: imports of municipal mixed waste grew fivefold after the introduction of waste-to-energy subsidies. This dynamic also fuels vicious circles, such as the slowdown of recycling rates to guarantee waste supply to the plants.The biggest importers of waste in the EU are Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia and Belgium – all countries  with a high incineration capacity according to the European Environment Agency.

Until when will the EU turn a blind eye on the fact that energy produced by incinerators is far from being renewable?

The ITRE Committee can now make a difference

In 2010 the European Union adopted a set of goals establishing the strategy known as Europe 2020. Europe 2020 is a strategy to address simultaneously economic growth, social inclusion and environment and climate protection. More in depth, the EU committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, compared to 1990 levels; increase by 20% the production of energy from renewable resources; increase by 20% the energy efficiency.

As a consequence, the European Commission has come up with a proposal to revise the RED, that is under discussion in the European Parliament, to create the appropriate framework to achieve the goals.

The new directive currently discussed in the ITRE committee should exclude subsidies for mixed/residual waste. The ENVI committee has already voted to exclude subsidies for waste that are not separately collected. Now it’s up to ITRE MEPs to make a difference.

If they don’t, the situation would continue, and the EU’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, compared to 1990 levels and increase by 20% the production of energy from renewable resources will become impossible to achieve.

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
Marco Giacomazzi

The Environment Committee’s vote on Renewable Energy confirms its commitment to Circular Economy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 24/10/17

With yesterday’s vote on the Renewable Energy proposal, the ENVI Committee took an important step to realign renewable energy policy with the EU waste legislation, and reconfirmed its commitment to achieve ambitious circular economy targets. The text approved yesterday sets new safeguards for waste-to-energy processes, to ensure they respect the waste hierarchy, as laid down in Directive 2008/98/EC, and avoid distortive effects on markets for waste, residues and byproducts.

Janek Vahk, Zero Waste Europe’s Development and Policy Coordinator said: “By prioritising energy recovery over waste prevention and recycling, the current Renewable Energy Directive has been a key obstacle to achieve the goals of EU waste legislation. Yesterday night MEPs have sent a clear signal that the recovery of energy from waste must be strictly guided by the waste hierarchy.”

For Zero Waste Europe, the text adopted at the ENVI Committee includes most of the key elements needed to align the renewable energy proposal with the EU circular economy policies. The text sets stricter criteria for the use of municipal and industrial wastes for energy. Moreover, it excludes renewable energy support for waste that are not separately collected.

We can only achieve a circular economy by phasing out subsidies for energy from mixed wastes. This is critical to the achievement of higher separate collection and recycling rates, in line with the requirements of the new waste legislation said Janek Vahk.

Zero Waste Europe congratulates the ENVI Committee and the team of rapporteurs, and calls on ITRE MEPs to complete the aligning of renewable energy and circular economy policies by supporting the ENVI committee decision to exclude support schemes for energy from mixed wastes.



  1. Zero Waste Europe’s position on the Revised Renewable Energy Directive

Press Contact:
Janek Vahk, 
Development and Policy Coordinator, 
Zero Waste Europe +32 (0) 2 503 64 88

Copenhagen goes all in on incineration, and it’s a costly mistake

The number one rule of investing is to buy low and sell high. Copenhagen, however, with the construction of the infamous Amager Bakke waste to energy plant, doesn’t see it that way.

Listed at an estimated 500 million euros, the experiential Amager Bakke incineration unit in Copenhagen is the most expensive of its kind in what’s widely considered to be one of Europe’s greenest countries. Although already astronomical, the 500 million euro figure is set to grow, as the plant has already experienced a technical failure since opening in May; a failure that has greatly impeded its ability to process the current stream of waste incoming. In response, the Danish government has granted the municipal waste disposal company, Amager Ressource Center (ARC), permission to store the tons of unprocessed waste until the problem has been resolved.

*Photo: © News Øresund – Johan Wessman (CC BY 3.0)

That’s not the only issue to have confronted Copenhagen’s prized possession. In October of 2016, during its construction, the technical installation of the large combustion furnaces that form the core of the Amager Bakke plant failed, costing an additional 13 million euros and ultimately tacking on a delay of 7 months to the project, which was set to open in January of 2017.

Apart from its already costly bill, most of which will fall on the shoulders of heating customers in Copenhagen, the plant’s processing capacity is far too high – 400 000 tons of waste annually. Because of this, if the plant operates under capacity and puts up losses, the taxpayer would be the one to bear the deficit. According to Danish newspaper The Murmur, to reach capacity an additional 90 000 – 115 000 tons of trash would be needed, of which the Danish government has already envisioned attaining through imports, clashing with not only their own resource strategy, but also the EU’s.

In a recent communication on the role of waste to energy in the circular economy, the European Commission upheld Zero Waste Europe’s stance on the future of waste management citing that ‘waste management is one of the main areas where further improvements are needed and within reach: increasing waste prevention, reuse and recycling are key objectives both of the action plan and of the legislative package on waste’. The communication adds that ‘mixed waste still accounts for a substantial share of the waste used in waste-to-energy processes, mainly incineration (52 %). Existing legal requirements and the circular economy waste proposals are bound to change this situation. Rules on separate collection and more ambitious recycling rates covering wood, paper, plastic and biodegradable waste are expected to reduce the amount of waste potentially available for waste-to-energy processes such as incineration and co-incineration’.

To us zero waste advocates, that’s like music to our ears. For incineration geared countries like Denmark, however, the Commission’s statements are a sign of nightmares to come. With less waste around to burn moving forward, Copenhagen’s new, shiny furnace will have much more down time, leading to profit losses and monetary burdens for citizens in years to come.

It’s clear that the future of the circular economy hinges on the success of sustainable waste management, in which incineration plays a minor, if not nonexistent, role. In Denmark’s case, although incineration significantly reduces the amount of waste in landfills, prioritizing its use over a modern approach to separate collection has stunted the growth of recycling rates.

*Municipal Solid Waste recycled in Denmark. Data from 2010 is not available. Source: Eurostat

The dangers of incineration centric waste management systems are apparent, making it all the more surprising that Copenhagen doesn’t see the writing on the wall. Or maybe those in charge are just too busy planning a trip to the slopes to care. Until now, the economic problems associated with overinvestment in incineration have been compensated with the importation of massive amounts of waste, mostly from the UK, which in 2015 alone brought 728.135 tonnes of foreign waste to Denmark, equalling 128,12 kg per Dane. This strategy is unstable, especially with the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, including whether Denmark would be able to keep importing British waste. To boot, the city of Copenhagen recently began separately collecting biowaste (rightly so), further reducing the potential waste the new plant could process. The future looks bleak, and with all of the problems the Amager Bakke incineration plant has faced thus far, the investment is already looking foolish for the former European green capital, just months after its launch.

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
Marco Giacomazzi

4 reasons why recycling is better than incineration

The waste hierarchy is the main principle at the cornerstone of the European Union’s waste policy. It establishes the priority order Member States should apply when developing waste management legislation and policy. It envisions that waste should be in the first place prevented, then  reused, recycled, processed for energy recovery, and finally disposed of.

Unfortunately, although waste prevention represents the top priority of the waste hierarchy, effective waste measures of this kind have rarely been yet developed by Member States. This delay in the implementation of the waste hierarchy principles is in part due to the lack of consistency among national waste policies: on the one hand, there are principles and other non-binding tools to promote more sustainability-oriented practices; on the other hand, Member States are free to subsidise the activity of burning mixed municipal waste, known as incineration.

When waste is not subjected to separate collection, it is called mixed or residual waste. This means that many materials (plastics, paper, organics), which could be recycled if they were separated at the source, are inexorably lost, because they will be burnt into incineration facilities.

The European Parliament is currently amending the European Directive on Renewable Energy, which will be implemented in the following decade. The legislation that emerges from this process will influence the choices of local policy makers and financial investors. This represents a major opportunity to offset unproductive investments and concentrate the efforts on the options that are the most sustainable, the most profitable, and generate the most jobs. In all these aspects, recycling makes much more sense than incineration, and here is why.

1. Recycling saves energy

The practice of incineration is bad for several reasons. On the first hand, it disincentivises citizens to care about what they consume. This is very dangerous in a world where more than 7 billion people live out of finite resources.

Not very long ago, recycling was considered difficult, even impossible, according to the most skepticals. However, nowadays recyclers run a business of millions of euros, while preserving materials in the economic loop. A combination of recycling and composting can save three to four times more energy than an incinerator can produce. 1

Moreover, recycling saves massive amounts of CO2 emissions and, if optimised, it can play key role in meeting the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement to contrast climate change. 2

Finally, when “embedded energy” is taken into account as an indicator (which, unfortunately, is not the case in many Life Cycle Assessments), the amount of energy that a high-quality recycling can potentially saves is astonishing when compared to incineration, as pointed out in a recent study.

2. Recycling is more profitable

Incineration of mixed municipal waste is an expensive practice which requires significant financial investments from local authorities. Unfortunately, the costs to build the facilities and to run them are are covered mainly by public funds with very little private contribution.  Therefore, its costs are, in reality, to be paid by the citizens through higher taxes and bills for waste management.

On the contrary, the recycling sector has developed into a successful business. In Germany, its turnover increased by 520 per cent between 2005 and 2009.3 Agreeing to take the path to maximize recycling is particularly important for those countries that joined the EU recently and are currently building their waste management system. They have also the most to gain in terms of jobs and savings.

3. Recycling creates more job

Burning waste requires a lot of money but very little workforce. This means that incineration facilities create almost no jobs.

On the contrary, recycling benefits the whole economy by creatingat least ten times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. 4

Here are a few examples:

It is estimated that, in addition to the nearly 400 000 direct jobs brought by the implementation of the existing EU waste legislation, 170 000 more jobs could be created, most of them impossible to delocalise outside the EU, and 30 billion euro could be saved by 2035. 6

When comparing the costs, one can see how good management and recycling save money for the taxpayers and create real and tangible wealth.

4. Recycling is more flexible and dynamic

Finally, the technology involved in incineration is neither efficient nor exempt from problems: in Denmark, the kingdom of incinerators, the sudden breakdown of one of the two incinerators forced the operator to apply for an extraordinary permit to store huge quantities of waste. Needless to say, the breakdown costed approximately €15 million to the operator who will likely swap the bill to the taxpayers.

Incinerators are not flexible. This means that, in order to deliver a sound economic profit, they need from 40 to 50 years of activity, without taking into account the management costs. In 1998, when the UK’s Kent County entered into a twenty-five-year contract to burn waste, it thought it was making a wise economic move. But now, as the recycling economy has vastly improved, the County is losing an estimated €1.5 million a year.7 Rather than selling its recyclables for reuse, which would be both economically and environmentally efficient, it must send those valuable resources up in smoke. That is an unfortunate situation that will persist until the contract expires.

On the contrary, re-use and recycling activities are not only environmentally friendly, but they also deliver a far better result from the economic and social point of view.

Nevertheless, because of misconceptions and sometimes poorly transparent decision making process, incineration still represent a serious threat, while every year less than 40% of European waste is recycled or re-used. The best way to invert this trend is to implement effective source separation (of waste) and separate collection schemes. By doing that, it is possible to boost the percentage of recycling and the quality of recyclates, thus creating an added value for society and the environment, and finally moving beyond the practice of mixed waste incineration for good.

1 J. Morriss and D. Canzonieri, Recycling versus Incineration: An Energy Conservation Analysis, Seattle, Sound Resource Management Group, 1993.
2 E. Katrakis, Time to make a decisive difference for recycling in Europe, The European Files, N. 44, Page 15, December 2016.
3 K. Florenz, Time for Change, The European Files, N. 44, Pp 9-11, December 2016.
4 P. Connet, The Zero Waste Solution. Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time, Paul Connet, 2013.
5 J.M. Simon, Case Study #4.The Story of Contarina, 2015
6 D.C. Crespo, Ambition and realism – key ingredients for a future-oriented waste policy, The European Files, N. 44, P. 8, December 2016.

7 P. Connet, The Zero Waste Solution. Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time, Paul Connet, 2013.

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
Marco Giacomazzi


3 ways the European Parliament can fix the Renewable Energy proposal

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is currently under revision in the European Parliament. Soon the committees responsible for the file will vote on the amendments, many of which cover use of waste for energy generation.

Just like the previous version, the new proposal (RED II) continues to promote energy recovery processes from the biodegradable fraction of mixed waste, thus circumventing the waste hierarchy. These processes not only undermine the waste management options with a higher circular economy potential, such as waste prevention and recycling, but also significantly contribute to climate change.

There are 3 key adjustments the European Parliament can make to align the RED II proposal with the EU waste and circular economy policies:

  • Firstly, the proposal should ensure that the promotion of energy from waste is strictly guided by the principle of the waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy ranks waste management options according to their sustainability, and it therefore prioritises waste prevention and recycling. In addition, the waste hierarchy also reflects the preferred environmental options from a climate perspective. To ensure that the Directive takes into account the principle of the waste hierarchy, new criteria for the use of waste for energy purposes should be introduced in the Directive.
  • Secondly, support schemes for energy from waste should be consistent with the goal of shifting upwards in the implementation of the EU waste hierarchy. Therefore, support measures for recovery of energy from the organics fraction of mixed waste processes (incineration and co-incineration), that undermine the waste hierarchy and discourage actions at the top of the waste hierarchy, should be phased out. This is critical to the achievement of higher separate collection and recycling rates of biowaste, in line with the requirements of the new waste legislation. Moreover, higher recycling of biowaste could produce the equivalent of over 12 large coal fire plants, or as much as the entire annual electric consumption of Austria for 2015 (60.813.000MWh).
  • Finally, the proposal should exclude any mention of the use of waste-based fossil fuels from the scope of the Directive. The renewable energy support schemes were developed to promote the use of energy from renewable sources in the EU. Therefore, the inclusion of waste-based fossil fuels (g. from plastics) within the scope of the proposal is a harmful distortion of renewable energy standards, and inconsistent with EU climate policies. Such a use of renewable energy funding is a massive step backward for the deployment of renewable energy sources in Europe and the achievement of a Circular Economy, and should therefore be explicitly excluded from the Directive.

Will the European Parliament fix the Renewable Energy proposal?

Find out more on why the current proposal is flawed in our previous blog.

Why the current Renewable Energy proposal is flawed, and how to fix it

The Renewable Energy Directive is under review. In November 2016, the European Commission published a legislative proposal which establishes a common framework for the promotion of energy from renewable sources. In addition, the document defines a set of sustainability criteria that biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels, except from municipal and industrial waste and residues, must fulfil to be eligible for financial support or count towards renewable energy target. However, the Commission’s proposal is far from optimal, and here is why.

Subverting the waste hierarchy

Similarly to the current Directive, the proposal defines the biodegradable fraction of municipal waste as a source of renewable energy. Member States are consequently allowed to support various forms of waste-to-energy processes, both from the separately collected organics and from the mixed municipal and industrial waste, to meet targets set under the Directive.

Such support schemes which promote energy generation from mixed municipal waste[1] are inconsistent with the cornerstone of the EU waste policy the waste hierarchy. The primary purpose of the waste hierarchy is to reduce waste generation at source, and to divert materials to re-use and recycling in order to minimise the amounts of waste going to other recovery (energy recovery) and disposal (landfill).  Waste is therefore meant to be primarily prevented, then prepared for reuse, and then recycled.

Figure 1. The waste hierarchy and waste-to-energy processes. Source: Communication from the Commission on the role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy.

Conversely, by allowing renewable energy support measures for the energy recovery from mixed municipal waste, the current proposal is actually promoting the second least desirable option of the waste hierarchy.

Distorting the market

This subversion has so far resulted in a clear distortion of the market, whereby investment in waste infrastructure and operation costs are organised on the basis of subsidies for the extraction of energy from mixed waste, instead of sound environmental and economic performance. As a result, several Member States have overinvested in waste-to-energy plants, whilst underinvesting in separate collection and recycling facilities for the organics and recyclables. In fact, according to the European Environment Agency, there has been no increase in organics recycling over the last years. This was confirmed by a recent survey by the European Compost Network which indicated that only about a third of organics is separately collected and composted and/or digested.

Moreover, financial support for energy from mixed waste has risulted in renewable energy subsidies financing waste-to-energy processes, such as incineration and co-incineration, that are contributing rather than mitigating climate change (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Indicative Climate Change Impacts of Key Waste Key Waste Management Activities (excl. CO2 from biogenic sources). Source: Eunomia, The contribution of waste management to a low-carbon economy, 2015.

What can the European Parliament and Council do?  2 concrete solutions

Fortunately, the European Parliament and the Council can still make a difference and amend the flaws of the actual proposal by taking two concrete steps.

Firstly, they could introduce a derogation to explicitly exclude any finacial support to the extraction of energy from mixed municipal waste.

Secondly, they could set new sustainability criteria to ensure that the use of waste and residues for energy purposes is strictly guided by the waste hierarchy, so that only the separately collected biowaste are used for energy generation. These measures would foster the improvement of separate collection of organics in the EU, while at same time promoting the generation of truly sustainable energy. In addition, they would be in line with the recent Commission’s communication on “The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy”, which recommends Member States to phase-out public support for the recovery of energy from waste, as well as with the separate collection obligations and more ambitious EU recycling targets included in the legislative proposal on Circular Economy.

[1] Mixed waste (residual waste) is mainly composed of food and kitchen waste, plastics, and paper.

Joint letter on plastic-to-fuel

Read the letter in PDF

To: Members of the European Parliament, ITRE & ENVI Committees
Subject: No Renewable Energy incentives for waste-based fuels from plastic

Brussels, 29 June 2017

Dear Members of the ITRE & ENVI Committees,

We the undersigned organizations believe that the inclusion of waste-based fossil fuels e.g. from plastics within the scope of the Renewable Energy Directive is a harmful distortion of renewable energy standards, and inconsistent with EU circular economy and climate policies. We call for integrity in standards for renewable energy incentives, and for an explicit exclusion of all articles related to the waste-based fossil fuels from the Commission’s proposal on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive.

Renewable energy support schemes were developed to promote the use of energy from renewable sources in the EU, in order to fight climate change and encourage the shift to a low-carbon economy. Burning or heating fossil waste such as plastics is the equivalent of burning fossil fuel, and therefore the opposite of renewable energy. Almost all plastics are derived from oil, gas, or coal, and burning them releases pollutants and greenhouse gases.

In addition subsidising energy generation from waste–based fossil fuels (including gasification and pyrolysis) would subvert one of the cornerstones of the EU circular economy policy, and notably the waste hierarchy. This hierarchy establishes an order of priority in waste prevention and management: waste is meant to be firstly prevented, then prepared for reuse, and then recycled. Conversely, the current proposal allows renewable energy support schemes that conflict with the waste hierarchy, by encouraging recovery of energy from waste, which is the second least desirable option of the waste hierarchy. While solutions do exist to recycle low-grade plastics, the focus should be redesigning products, in particular single-use and non-recyclable ones. On the contrary, promoting the plastic waste to fuel would jeopardise the efforts to close the loop of materials, while increasing our reliance on residual waste and non-recyclable plastics.

We are deeply concerned about the inclusion of waste-based fossil fuels in the scope of the Directive. The use of renewable energy funding for these is a massive step backward for the deployment of renewable energy sources in Europe and Circular Economy. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and redesign products to use less but more circular plastics, instead of trying to recover energy from them.

We therefore urge the members of the ITRE and ENVI Committees to explicitly exclude waste-based fossil fuels from the scope of the Commission’s proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive.

Ekologi Brez Meja – Ecologists Without Borders
European Environmental Bureau
Friend of the Earth Europe
Plastic Recyclers Europe
Zero Waste Europe

Study shows climate benefits from separate collection of organics

Separate collection of organics is a key strategy for reducing climate change emissions, according to a study undertaken by Zero Waste Europe’s member Amigos de la Tierra Spain, Separate Collection: The Path to Composting”.

The study analysed and evaluated the waste management systems in 5 different Spanish cities with different collection system for organics, showing that door-to-door and community composting models, which involve greater citizen participation, result in the least unsuitable material content and a lower economic cost, thus these being the most effective.

The different models for separate collection of organics were classified according to the final quality of the compost, for example, as one key factor to take into account. The best collection systems obtain the best compost, determined by the level of residual waste contamination (pieces of plastic, metal or anything non-organic). The analysis also took into consideration the number of tons treated by each of the models, the level of contamination in the organic waste stream, the participation of citizens, the costs, and the reduction of emissions of gases that cause climate change.

The top 5 organic collection models

  1. The study gives the first place to the model of community composting, a system whereby neighbours take their organic waste directly to the local composter. This is a way to secure greatest climate benefit, as the compost is locally applied (saving Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions related to transport) and also applied locally in public gardens and allotments, which increases the carbon sink capacity of soils.
  2. The second best model is the door-to-door collection, which requires neighbours to be very careful with separation of waste streams and achieves great levels of non-contaminated organic waste stream.
  3. The third best model is the public container in the street only accessible with a key, so that only those neighbours committed to the separation of organic waste are allowed to open the container and put their organic waste there.
  4. The fourth best is the 2 waste streams collection ‘wet-dry’, where organic and inorganic waste are separated.
  5. Finally, the fifth best system it’s the open container, where even if organic waste is separated, there is a lot of improper residues and it generates a compost of very low quality.

The models analysed were the fifth container of Barcelona, ​​the door-to-door collection in Esporles (Majorca), the Wet-dry system in the community of Barbanza (Galicia), the community composting in Hernani (Guipuzkoa), the fifth container with key in Pamplona and a failed pilot project in Rioja.

The study also highlights that separate collection of organic waste is completely necessary to reach the objectives set by the EU – the recycling target of 50% by 2020. More and more regions and municipalities, such as the Foral Community of Navarra or the municipalities of Madrid and Valencia, have become aware of the need to implement separate collection of organics and are growing into the benefits of producing quality composting while reducing GHG emissions.

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
Marco Giacomazzi

Sweden’s Recycling (D)evolution

By Christopher Nicastro

Sweden is not known for its lack of innovation. In fact, in the 2016 Global Innovation Index conducted by Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO, Sweden sits only behind Switzerland as the second most innovative country in the world. And while Sweden is credited with innovations like the Solar safe water system and Spotify, much of their innovative brain power has been channelled into tackling one of the world’s biggest problems – waste.

As the world ponders on and builds sustainable solutions to deal with waste, Sweden has taken immediate action, applying a drastic approach to waste management in large scale incineration. Home to a total of 32 incineration plants, Sweden has incinerated an average of nearly 50% of all its Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) between 2000 and 2015.

Thanks to their increased efforts in incineration, the amount of trash sitting in Sweden’s landfills measures only 1% of their total MSW, eliminating harmful greenhouse gases (GHG) like methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. Additionally, Sweden has found success in decreasing its dependency on fossil fuels by harnessing energy from the waste itself through incineration. Roughly three tons of waste equals one ton of fuel oil, which is quite a good ratio considering waste is more abundant than fossil fuel in this day in age. In fact, it’s for this very reason that Sweden has turned waste into a lucrative commodity. By selling their incineration services and importing trash from countries that are willing to pay the price for greener pastures, Sweden has deepened their pockets and captured nn more energy for its plants and municipal utility services.

In relation to waste management, it would seem like Sweden has reached the Promised Land. Even if that were true in the short term, on a large scale, and in the long term, this strategy has negative effects on the very foundations of zero waste and the circular economy.

Recycling (D)evolution

Sweden claims to be undergoing a recycling revolution, boasting that they recycle nearly 100% of household waste. But how could that be true when nearly 50% of their waste is incinerated. Incineration and recycling are two completely different things. Between 2000 and 2015, Sweden recycled an average of 33% of its total MSW (excluding compost).  In 2015 alone, Sweden recycled only 32% of its total MSW (48% with compost included), which is still a ways away from the European Commission’s common EU MSW recycling target of 65% by 2030. When it’s all said and done, however, Sweden ranked sixth among European countries in recycling in 2015. That might seem like cause for celebration, but their increased focus on incineration over the years has brought about stagnation in recycling rates since 2006.

An incinerator facility in Sweden / photo by Johan Gunséus/Synk (CC-BY-ND 3.0)

Dependency on Waste

Sweden’s stagnating recycling rate is concerning because as waste incineration becomes an increasingly reliable source of energy for them and their dependency on it grows, there is less motivation to better recycling efforts countrywide. In some cases, sorted trash actually gets incinerated, further demotivating municipalities and individuals to invest time and money into waste separation. For this reason, many recyclables are lost through incineration, leading to the destruction of valuable goods that would normally contribute to a higher, more efficient recycling rate and production cycle.

A Costly A(ir)ffair

Sweden’s increased dependency on incineration for their energy and economic needs has prompted them to continue building plants, which are very costly to both build and run, not to mention the pollutants that they produce. According to the EPA, quoted in Treehugger and Slate, incineration plants release about 1.3 times the amount of CO2 per megawatt generated than burning coal does, and they have been shown to release many other toxic chemicals such as dioxins. And while much of the CO2 would have been emitted from the waste over time anyway if left untouched, the fact that it’s being released all at once is cause for concern. From a cost perspective, a cost-benefit analysis on waste incineration conducted by Columbia University shows that plants can cost upwards of 100 million euros to construct and anywhere from 3 – 7 million euros yearly to maintain. And in order to make a return on investment, incineration plants have to process steady amounts of waste. This puts Sweden between a rock and a hard place as their reliance on generating waste to keep up with their energy and economical demands goes against their zero waste claims and the very basis of the circular economy.

Importing garbage for energy is good business for Sweden from Sweden on Vimeo.

Creating Long Term Solutions

Weine Wiqvist, Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association CEO, cited “’Zero waste’ – that is our slogan. We would prefer less waste being generated, and that all the waste that is generated is recycled in some way. Perfection may never happen, but it certainly is a fascinating idea.”

Hopefully Sweden will strive towards increasing their recycling targets moving forward and lessening their overall MSW, however, as it currently stands, their actions do not correlate with the principles of zero waste, unlike their official claims. Under zero waste, the goal is not to use waste as a commodity, but to eliminate it altogether. A system based on reducing, reusing, and recycling can take us there, but only if large scale incineration is restrained. The European Parliament’s ENVI committee has recently proposed to exclude financial support for the incineration of mixed MSW, effectively restraining large scale incineration and prioritising waste reduction if approved at the parliament level.

So what’s your move, Sweden?

Christopher Nicastro

Christopher Nicastro

As a guy who has a passion for sustainability and eco alternatives, Chris naturally came upon the Zero Waste revolution back in 2014. To Chris, Zero Waste not only fuelled his desire to shape a world without waste, but also opened him up to a lifestyle based on harmony through simplification and purpose. Today, Chris continues his journey and seeks to inspire those through written word to put an end to waste by taking action.
Christopher Nicastro

UKWIN officially ‘earthMovers’

On Saturday 3rd June 2017 Zero Waste Europe member UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network) received an Earthmovers Award for Outstanding Community Campaign from Friends of the Earth (FoE) at Basecamp, which is FoE’s annual environmental festival .

UKWIN coordinator with the Earthmovers award

Accepting the award, the UKWIN National Coordinator Shlomo Dowen said: “Over the past decade UKWIN has been blessed with hundreds of dedicated, passionate and conscientious volunteers, who have made a real difference in their communities. I dedicate this award to all of UKWIN’s worthy volunteers, and pay special tribute to two of them.”

Shlomo spoke of Mick Bee’s sense of humour and Jeff Meehan’s extraordinary determination, noting that the culture of mutual support and camaraderie that they embodied, and that so many fellow anti-incineration campaigners continue to exhibit, has helped make UKWIN such a successful and formidable campaign network.

At Basecamp UKWIN was involved in workshops on the barriers that incineration pose to recycling and the circular economy, on opportunities for local Zero Waste campaigning, and on the great work being done around the country to tackle food waste.

Those interested in joining UKWIN network can do so via and those interested in helping fund the cause can do so via

PRESS RELEASE: European Parliament’s report calls for halt on harmful subsidies to waste incineration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 07/06/17

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the ENVI committee’s draft report on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive. This report represents a first important step towards the alignment of EU energy and circular economy policies, by excluding financial support for incineration of mixed municipal solid waste.

“We have been calling for the elimination of financial support for energy extraction from mixed waste as this subverts one of the key cornerstones of the EU waste policy – the waste hierarchy” said Janek Vahk, Development and Policy Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe. Such a hierarchy establishes an order of priority in waste prevention and management: waste is therefore meant to be firstly prevented, then prepared for reuse, and recycled.

The effect of the financial support to waste to energy has so far resulted in a clear distortion of the market, whereby the choice of waste management options and the investment in waste infrastructure have been based on such subsidies, rather than on a sound environmental and economic performance. As a consequence, several European countries, e.g. Denmark and Sweden, have overinvested in energy from waste plants, whilst underinvesting in recycling facilities.

“We hope that this is now going to change – continued Vahk – and that the European Parliament will take on this report, and prioritise waste reduction, reuse and recycling over waste to energyschemes”.



Zero Waste Europe’s position on the Revised Renewable Energy Directive


Janek Vahk, Development and Policy Coordinator
+32 (0) 2 503 64 88

Press release: Future and financing waste-to-energy

For immediate release: Brussels, Bucharest, Ljubljana, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw, Vilnius, Zagreb, February 4, 2017

The European Commission’s recent communication on the role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy should be a clear signal for the Central and Eastern European authorities that the priority is prevention and recycling, and not waste incineration.

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been granted 5.4 billion euro by the European Commission from the Cohesion and European Regional Development Fund to improve waste management systems for the period 2014-2020. The partnership agreements between the Commission and governments had been signed before the circular economy package was issued and established new and more progressive priorities for the management of waste by the Member States. However, while the agreements highlight that the financial support under the cohesion policy should be directed first of all to the development of selective waste collection and construction of infrastructure for recycling, they also allocate over 50 per cent of available money for “thermal treatment, incineration”. This caused CEE authorities to consider constructing over 80 waste incinerators (combined capacity over 5.42 million tonnes/a), and approximately 40 mechanical biological treatment facilities (MBT; combined capacity over 3.29 million tonnes/a)[1]. These investments may consume most available funds, and slow down, or maybe even block for years, implementation of a progressive waste reduction and recycling system.

Large scale investments into MBTs, waste incinerators, and other semi-innovative techniques based on unsorted municipal solid waste, have always led to conservation and locking in of systems based on co-mingled waste collection, and low recycling rates. It could be no different in CEE countries where average recycling rates are at 18 per cent and composting at 5 per cent. Slovenia is the only exception, where there has been substantial progress to reach 49 per cent recycling and 12 per cent composting, thanks to the wide implementation of zero waste methodologies.

Most CEE countries still have low or no incineration capacity, which provides a great opportunity to invest into systems that are less costly, and have much less impact on the health of society and the environment. These are systems focused on waste prevention, re-use, separate collection and recycling. The systems must be flexible and ready to accept increasing amounts of recyclables, which will be expected in a future as a result of higher recycling targets set by waste legislation within the Circular Economy package.

This opportunity has been recognized by the European Commission in recent communications:

Public funding should also avoid creating overcapacity for non-recyclable waste treatment such as incinerators. In this respect it should be borne in mind that mixed waste as a feedstock for waste-to-energy processes is expected to fall as a result of separate collection obligations and more ambitious EU recycling targets. For these reasons, Member States are advised to gradually phase-out public support for the recovery of energy from mixed waste[2].


[…] funding for new facilities for the treatment of residual waste, such as incineration or mechanical biological treatment, will be granted only in limited and well justified cases, where there is no risk of overcapacity and the objectives of the waste hierarchy are fully respected.[3]

Therefore the undersigned organizations call the Central and Eastern European governments as well as European institutions such as the European Investment Bank[4] and JASPERS to not assist and grant projects for the construction of waste incinerators and MBTs from public funds but instead to support investments into prevention, separate waste collection and recycling: a system which is coherent with circular economy priorities and targets.


Press contact:

Bulgaria: Evgenia Tasheva (+359) 879 899 426,

Croatia: Marko Košak, (+385) 989 752 335,

Czech Republic: Ivo Kropáček, (+420) 604 207 302,

Hungary: Urbán Csilla, (+36) 1 386-2648,, Alexa Botár, (+36) 1 216-7297,

Lithuania: Domantas Tracevičius, (+370) 618 22 667,

Poland: Paweł Głuszyński, (+48) 501 752 106,

Romania: Elena Rastei, +40 734 911 322,

Slovenia: Urša Zgojznik, (+386) 41 793 584,

Friends of the Earth Europe: Meadhbh Bolger, (+32) 483 659 497,


List of signatories:

Arnika – Toxics and Waste Programme

Alliance of Associations Polish Green Network (PZS)

Association New Idea (SNI)

Alter eko Foundation

CEE Bankwatch Network

Circular Economy Lithuania (ZE)

Ecologists Without Borders (EBM)

European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Friends of the Earth Bulgaria (ZZ)

Friends of the Earth Croatia (ZA)

Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (HD)

Friends of the Earth Europe

Friends of the Earth Hungary

Humusz Waste Prevention Alliance (HSz)

Institute for Sustainable Development (InE)

Polish Biorecycling Association (SnrRB)

The Society for Earth (TNZ)

Zero Waste Europe

Zero Waste Romania


[1] Data gathered by the undersigned NGOs, based on information included in national, regional, and local waste management plans.

[2] The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy, COM(2017) 34 final.

[3] Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy, COM(2015) 614 final.


Gipuzkoa continues to mobilise against incineration for health, environment and economy

A report of the anti-incineration protests in Gipuzkoa from Basque Zero Waste Europe member Zero Zabor.

In late December, a massive protest took place in city of Gipuzkoa in the Basque country opposing the new Zubieta incinerator project. This comes after the Zubieta incinerator project which stopped in 2013 was relaunched in mid 2015, after the latest municipal and provincial elections. Despite the massive opposition supporters of incineration continue to stubbornly push for the construction of the redundant facility.

The consortium selected to build the new incinerator is led by the company Urbaser and also includes a number of Gipuzkoan companies and the French company Meridiam Investments. The consortium is committed to finish the construction in 26 months, meeting the basic objective of the government of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Socialists (PSOE). This would mean having the facility fully in place before the end of the political term, making it de facto impossible to move away from incineration in the future.

Massive opposition from the people of Gipuzkoa

Since early 2016 various of protests have taken place, such as a march to the construction site in February, a human chain in May, a gathering in front of the banks and companies involved in the consortium.

The next date on the calendar was December 27, when the result of the allocation of the contract took place. The movement against incineration gathered to protest in front of the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa, where the assembly of the GHK (Gipuzkoa Consortium for Waste Management) formalised the allocation of the contract.

While the crowd in the streets complained about the project, the assembly of GHK allocated the construction, the management and exploitation of the incinerator to the consortium lead by Urbaser.

The protest was massive, particularly considering that it was on a Tuesday during the Christmas period. The images here below show the impressive response of civil society:

Once again, the opposition and worry this toxic and redundant infrastructure generates became clear. This time, concerns regarding the impact on the environment and health were joined by the economic concerns, given that the contract for the incinerator will burden the Province of Gipuzkoa for 35 years with unsustainable waste management and an high financial cost.

Find here below some of the press coverage of the demonstration of December 27 (in Spanish):

Podemos, Ezker Anitza, Equo and EH Bildu call to stop the incinerator

EH Bildu, Podemos, Ezker Anitza-IU and Equo made public on December 26 a common manifesto reaffirming their compromises of May on a circular economy and zero waste and insisted on their rejection to the incinerator of Zubieta.

Towards a new European mindset on waste-to-energy?

The European Commission released on 26 January the Communication on the Role of Waste-to-Energy in a Circular Economy. Although non-binding, the communication analyses the current role of waste-to-energy and gives guidance on Member States on how to cope with the problems this generates.

From Zero Waste Europe’s point of view, the Commission has positively changed its position from promoting incineration to acknowledging the problems related to overcapacities, distortive economic incentives and the risk that a very quick phasing out of landfills shifts waste from these to incinerators and not to prevention, reuse and recycling.

In this regard, the Commission advises those Member States heavily relying on landfills to focus on separate collection, on increasing recycling capacity and on diverting bio-waste from landfills. It insists that in case these Member States want to obtain energy from waste, they are recommended to recycle bio-waste through anaerobic digestion. In addition, they are called on taking into account the commitments and objectives for next 20-30 years (separate collection and recycling targets) and carefully assess the evolution expected for mixed waste when planning infrastructures, so as to avoid regrettable investments (i.e. redundant incinerators).

When it comes to those Member States heavily relying on incineration, the Commission calls on them to raise taxes on waste-to-energy, phase out public support schemes, decommission old facilities and establish a moratorium on new ones.  The case on defunding waste-to-energy has been extended to all Member States, so as not to distort the waste hierarchy. In this sense, the Commission acknowledges that the waste operations delivering the highest reduction of GHG emissions are prevention, reuse and recycling and are the ones to be promoted, something Eunomia’s report for Zero Waste Europe of 2015 already showed.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes this call, but would have expected the Commission to show this ambition when last November proposed a revision of the Renewable Energy Directive that is the one opening the door for renewable energy subsidies for incineration. ZWE expects MEPs and national governments to take note of this communication when reviewing the Directive and bring coherence between EU legislation.

ZWE notes, however, that the text still considers that waste incineration has a role within a circular economy, which is a conceptual contradiction because if material loops are effectively closed there is nothing left to burn. A more accurate approach would be to say that the capacity of waste to energy incineration is to be used in the transition period to a circular economy but once proper material and value preservation policies are successfully implemented burning waste will be redundant.

Finally ZWE’s warns about the Commission current double standards with its approach to waste to energy (WtE) in Europe and its support to WtE in the rest of the world, particularly in the Global South where we have seen successful recycling programs having been dismantled to feed the European funded incineration plants.

Nevertheless, this communication seems a change in the mindset of the European Commission and a positive step to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies and move towards zero waste.

Commission calls for defunding of waste-to-energy

For immediate release: Brussels, January 26, 2017

The European Commission published today the Communication on the role of waste-to-energy in a circular economy. The text, although non-binding, provides clarity for the implementation of the waste hierarchy and gives guidance for Member States to avoid problems such as incineration overcapacity.

For the countries with low incineration capacities and highly dependent on landfilling, the Commission advises to focus on improving separate collection and increasing the recycling capacity. Priority should be given to collection and recycling of bio-waste and to take into account a long-term perspective when assessing the need of so-called waste-to-energy facilities, as mixed waste is expected to be significantly reduced in the coming years as recycling rises.

Those countries with high incineration capacity (typically Northern European countries) are, however, recommended to raise incineration taxes, to phase out primes and subsidies to waste-to-energy incineration and to introduce a moratorium on new facilities, as well as decommissioning old ones.

Member States are recommended to phase out public subsidy for the recovery of energy from waste, and so is the support from the Commission for this infrastructure through EU funds.

Zero Waste Europe urges Member States to implement these recommendations so they move up in the waste hierarchy.

Despite these positive recommendations, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) regrets that the European Commission did not include the call to phase out subsidies for waste-to-energy in the recent Renewable Energy Directive proposal. ZWE would remind the commission that energy savings via prevention and recycling are currently undermined by subsidies going to lower levels of the waste hierarchy such as waste incineration. ZWE calls on MEPs and the national governments to fix this during the legislative process.

Ferran Rosa, ZWE’s Policy Officer said “We cannot keep wasting our money and resources in subsidising waste-to-energy. Divestment from waste-to-energy is needed if we want to create the right incentives for a circular economy”.


Ferran Rosa, Waste Policy Officer

+32 470 838 105

Fondos para “soluciones” insustentables: financiamiento climático alemán al sector de los residuos en el Sur Global

(Versión en español no oficial, elaborada por una de las autoras del artículo. El artículo se encuentra publicado en Inglés y en Alemán)

Organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONG) de la red de GAIA en todo el mundo han alertado que la Cooperación Alemana para el Desarrollo, a través de la GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung), ha estado involucrada en propuestas para el sector de los residuos que estimulan las opciones menos amigables con el medio ambiente, incluyendo tecnologías como co-incineración de residuos y Combustible Derivado de Residuos (CDR) en hornos de cemento. Esto es muy preocupante, especialmente porque Alemania está reportando estas actividades como financiamiento climático. GIZ, en particular, parece estar jugando un papel muy contraproducente en los planes de desarrollo para el sector de los residuos en el Hemisferio Sur, al impulsar potencialmente la inversión en financiamiento climático hacia actividades que en realidad aumentan los gases de efecto invernadero (GEI), e impactan severamente la salud y los ecosistemas de comunidades locales y vulnerables.
Aunque en algunos casos la inversión de la GIZ en el sector de los residuos se utiliza para promover tecnologías sostenibles a pequeña escala, como las plantas de biogás en Bangladesh (descrito más adelante en este artículo), la mayor parte de la denominada financiación para el clima va hacia proyectos de grandes capitales, los cuales perjudican los esfuerzos para reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero.

La quema de residuos en cementeras – una falsa solución para el cambio climático

La industria del cemento contribuye de manera importante al cambio climático: el estudio denominado “Carbon Majors” listó a los fabricantes de cemento como los únicos no productores de combustibles fósiles que se encuentran entre las 90 primeras compañías responsables del 63% de todas las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero. La producción de cemento, el segundo producto más consumido en el mundo después del agua, es uno de los procesos industriales de más alto consumo energético. La industria del cemento en todo el mundo, por tanto, se ha comprometido a reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero.

El sector del cemento justifica el uso de residuos y biomasa como combustible por dos razones principales. En primer lugar, sostiene que el uso de “residuos” implica menos emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero, ya que considera que el balance de carbono liberado es en parte neutral – aprovechando el mito del carbono neutral de la biomasa. En segundo lugar, afirma que el uso de los residuos reduce las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero de los rellenos sanitarios, donde presumiblemente los residuos terminan si no se utilizan como combustible en el proceso de producción de cemento. Si bien en parte puede ser cierto que los rellenos sanitarios son una opción de gestión de residuos generalizada en el Hemisferio Sur, esto no implica que quemar los residuos es en cambio la opción baja en carbono, libre de tóxicos, o la solución para el uso eficiente de los recursos que se requiere para hacer frente a los desafíos ambientales actuales.

La incineración de residuos y los combustibles “alternativos” no sólo no reducen las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero y tóxicos, sino que en realidad los aumentan, especialmente cuando se utilizan ciertos tipos de residuos peligrosos industriales o ciertos tipos de plásticos como combustible. Las fábricas de cemento no tienen los medios para filtrar metales pesados volátiles (mercurio, talio, cadmio, etc.) que están presentes en el coque de petróleo y residuos, ni pueden filtrar las emisiones tóxicas con contaminantes orgánicos persistentes (COPs, POPs por sus siglas en inglés), como dioxinas y furanos (PCDD / PCDF), que están prohibidos por el Convenio de Estocolmo. Los COPs constituyen una amenaza mundial para la salud humana y el medio ambiente debido a sus características específicas. Son tóxicos y persistentes en el medio ambiente, pueden viajar largas distancias y se acumulan en la cadena alimentaria. Como Alemania es signatario del Convenio de Estocolmo, cualquier promoción de las principales fuentes de generación de COPs, como la incineración de residuos, es contraria a la intención de la Convención.

El impacto significativo de la contaminación resultante se ha dejado sentir en primer lugar y de la peor manera en las comunidades aledañas a los hornos de cemento y plantas impulsados por la energía de los residuos, donde han pasado factura enfermedades respiratorias, enfermedades de la piel, pérdida de cultivos, y accidentes de trabajo fatales. En 2015, la investigación científica comenzó a prestar atención a esta situación y apareció con resultados reveladores en lo que respecta a las tasas de cáncer cerca de las fábricas de cemento, así como el mapeo de los conflictos ambientales relacionados con la incineración de residuos en plantas de cemento.


Pero aparte de la contaminación del aire, uno de los impactos negativos de la incineración de residuos es la subversión de la jerarquía de residuos, los criterios de sostenibilidad de las políticas de mitigación del cambio climático y de la gestión de residuos. La contribución del sector de los residuos a la reducción de emisiones de GEI tiene un enorme potencial cuando se da apoyo a los niveles más altos de la jerarquía de residuos – incluyendo la reducción, la reutilización, el reciclaje, el compostaje, la generación de biogás, el consumo y la producción sostenibles – siendo un elemento de transformación fundamental en el desarrollo de una economía baja en carbono. Esto es especialmente cierto en el Hemisferio Sur, donde el 1% de la población se gana la vida en el sector informal de reciclaje y necesitan un apoyo adecuado para operar en condiciones de trabajo seguras. Invertir en quemar materiales no sólo tiene impactos ambientales negativos, sino también impactos negativos en ámbitos sociales y de desarrollo.

El apoyo de GIZ a la incineración de residuos en cementeras en el Sur Global

GIZ es un actor clave en la cooperación alemana para el desarrollo, así como en el financiamiento climático. De 2010 a 2014 la GIZ ha puesto en marcha una cuarta parte de los 9,65 millones de euros reportados como financiación para el clima por Alemania en 864 proyectos, lo que lo convierte en el segundo mayor implementador después del Banco Alemán de Desarrollo KfW. Mitigación – categoría donde se pueden localizar los proyectos de gestión de residuos – constituye un tercio de los proyectos ejecutados por la GIZ. Si bien una lista completa de todos los proyectos de residuos considerados como financiamiento climático no está disponible, una búsqueda en la base de datos de proyectos climáticos financiados por Alemania muestra 13 proyectos que están claramente relacionados con la gestión de residuos. Por lo tanto, la gestión de residuos desempeña un papel relativamente pequeño en el financiamiento climático. Sin embargo, el proyecto de asesoramiento de GIZ en conceptos para la gestión sostenible de los residuos (ver aquí la base de datos de proyectos), que en su fase actual comenzó en el año 2014, tiene a los residuos para energía como uno de los cuatro temas centrales que dan una indicación de su creciente relevancia dentro de la GIZ.

Participación de GIZ en la implementación del financiamiento climático alemán (2010-2014)

Fuente: Base de datos de proyectos en
Fuente: Base de datos de proyectos en

Poner números concretos para el compromiso de la GIZ en el sector de los residuos también es difícil. No es posible identificar la cantidad exacta de fondos para el tratamiento de residuos aportados por GIZ, como se informa en la misma categoría para el agua y el saneamiento. De acuerdo con la base de datos de proyectos GIZ, 93 proyectos se financian actualmente bajo la categoría de “agua y saneamiento / tratamiento de residuos” con un volumen financiero de 641 millones de euros. Sin embargo, GIZ ha sido identificada como una institución europea clave que promueve la incineración de residuos en plantas de cemento en el Sur Global, y que ha hecho saltar las alarmas entre las organizaciones de la sociedad civil que trabajan en el sector de los residuos y políticas climáticas. Lo más importante, GIZ ha promovido la incineración de residuos en los países en desarrollo como una estrategia de mitigación del cambio climático, en muchos casos en el contexto de las Acciones Nacionales Apropiadas de Mitigación (NAMA). En 2015, Basura Cero Europa en colaboración con GAIA América Latina y GAIA India publicaron 3 estudios de caso sobre las NAMA en el sector de los residuos. Los resultados mostraron que la GIZ estuvo involucrada en estos proyectos y por lo tanto promotor de actividades contaminantes en el sector de los residuos. Estudios de casos de diferentes países, incluyendo éstas y otras actividades a continuación descritas, proporcionan una visión general de algunos hallazgos hechos hasta el momento.

América Latina

La gestión de residuos sólidos es el tercer o cuarto mayor contribuyente a las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero en varios países de América Latina, y esta cifra sigue aumentando. El desarrollo de políticas sostenibles para el sector de los residuos se ha convertido en una prioridad cada vez más importante para varios países de la región, con un fuerte enfoque en la reducción de emisiones en el sector de los residuos. En este contexto, la cooperación internacional a través de los instrumentos de financiación del clima se vuelve especialmente relevante.

República Dominicana: GIZ ha promovido planes para la incineración de residuos en plantas de cemento en este país a través del proyecto “Apoyo a la implementación del Plan de Desarrollo Compatible del Clima de la República Dominicana (CCDP)” en los sectores de cemento y residuos, encargado por el Ministerio Federal Alemán de Medio Ambiente, Conservación de la Naturaleza, Construcción y Seguridad Nuclear (BMUB) (ver aquí la base de datos del proyecto). Esto está destinado a sentar las bases de una NAMA en el sector de los residuos. Por otra parte, la GIZ apoyó un seminario en la República Dominicana sobre los beneficios de la co-incineración en 2014, junto con la Fundación CEMA con sede en España, que es bien conocida por su campaña de lavado verde para la industria del cemento, según la Red Española contra la incineración en plantas de cemento y por Basura cero.

México: GIZ ha promovido activamente la incineración de residuos en plantas de cemento, a pesar de la larga lista de casos de contaminación aguda vinculados a ellas. En 2015, la GIZ co-organizó el Foro Internacional “Valoración energética de los residuos urbanos “, que recibió fuertes críticas de 9 ONG ambientales de México, incluidas las ONG locales que afirmaban que “el mensaje principal de esta conferencia es la reforma de la legislación existente para facilitar el camino para los proyectos de incineración o de conversión de residuos en energía”. Detrás de la organización del Foro hay un programa llamado Aprovechamiento Energético de Residuos Urbanos (ver aquí en la base de datos de proyecto), con la participación de GIZ y organismos gubernamentales de México. El programa busca “promover el uso del potencial energético de los residuos municipales con el fin de” contribuir a la seguridad energética “, y considera explícitamente la incineración y co-incineración”.


En el lado positivo, la GIZ es un líder mundial en la financiación y ejecución de muchos proyectos beneficiosos en apoyo a los países de Asia para mitigar y/o adaptarse al cambio climático o proteger su biodiversidad única. En el lado negativo, la GIZ también está integrando la formulación de instrumentos económicos, tales como feed-in-tariffs*, para la incineración de residuos para energía, favoreciendo así esta práctica contaminante.

Bangladesh: Como un ejemplo positivo, a través del programa de eficiencia energética y energías renovables (ver aquí en la base de datos de proyecto) GIZ apoya el establecimiento de 1.500 plantas de biogás que ahora se utilizan para proporcionar energía para la cocina doméstica. Esto contribuyó a la reducción de los impactos adversos para la salud causados por la quema de biomasa, utilizando residuos orgánicos de mataderos, de la industria de los lácteos y la avícola para generar energía de biogás y abono libre de patógenos seguro para la agricultura.

India: La India ha elegido los residuos como un sector para la intervención en su INDC y NAMA y GIZ lamentablemente ha adoptado la incineración de “residuos para energía” (WTE) como un elemento central de estas propuestas. A través de los documentos, intervenciones públicas y papers de políticas llevados adelante, la GIZ parece promover la exportación del modelo de gestión de residuos de Alemania de los años 1980 y 1990, es decir, soluciones técnico-entusiastas excesivamente centradas en la incineración de residuos. Esto se hace sin tener en cuenta el contexto social y político en la India o el desarrollo de políticas de la UE en la agenda de los recursos, los residuos y la economía circular de los últimos años, que se están moviendo lejos de la incineración. Lejos de reconocer que Alemania está, de hecho, viéndose obligado a importar los residuos procedentes de Europa del Sur para alimentar la sobrecapacidad de incineración en el país, los consultores de la GIZ hacen referencia a lo “bueno” de la incineración en India, promocionándola engañosamente como un éxito.

Por otra parte, los miembros de GAIA de la región de Asia Pacífico apuntan al alto contenido de humedad de sus residuos y su falta de idoneidad para el tratamiento térmico de éstos en su región, que es un área especial de preocupación en relación con el financiamiento climático internacional bien orientado hacia la energía renovable y la gestión de residuos. Con la colaboración de Monitoreo Ambiental Comunitario (CEM), GAIA publicó el informe ” Problemas Concretos” sobre las emisiones de las plantas de cemento en la India, criticando la actual co-incineración de residuos peligrosos en las industrias del cemento. El informe sirvió de base para una petición ciudadana privada en la Corte Ambiental de la India, (Tribunal Verde Nacional) en septiembre de 2015. La petición pasará a desafiar a las directrices de co-incineración de la Junta Central de Control de la Contaminación de la India, que permite la co-incineración de residuos municipales y peligrosos en plantas de cemento.

Necesidad urgente: cambiar los patrones de financiamiento lejos de los “residuos para energía”

Aunque se necesita más investigación, los resultados hasta ahora muestran que la GIZ, en asociación con la industria del cemento, es responsable de promover prácticas industriales que son falsas soluciones al cambio climático, causando grandes emisiones tóxicas que contaminan el aire y por lo tanto afectar la salud humana, el medio ambiente y el clima.

En nombre de nuestra red internacional GAIA y del movimiento por la justicia climática, exigimos un cambio en la política de las instituciones públicas y las industrias globales que promueven la quema de residuos como “combustible alternativo”. En cambio, deben defender la protección de la calidad del aire en países clave, la eficiencia de los recursos y las estrategias de Basura Cero que pueden ofrecer beneficios mucho más altos para el clima, aumentar la resiliencia de la economía local y mejorar los medios de vida en el sector del reciclaje.

GIZ debería por lo tanto:

garantizar la rendición de cuentas en sus inversiones de colaboración al desarrollo y la financiación climática para el sector de los residuos en todo el mundo. GIZ debe revisar de manera crítica la contribución del sector de los residuos a la mitigación del cambio climático y el desarrollo sostenible en los países receptores.

garantizar que el financiamiento climático impulse la transformación positiva de bajo carbono en el sector de los residuos. Esto significa retirar el apoyo a la incineración “de residuos para energía” y apoyar soluciones alternativas limpias y seguras basadas en energías renovables, eficiencia energética, así como el tratamiento de residuos, de acuerdo con la jerarquía de residuos.



Magdalena Donoso, GAIA América Latina
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe/GAIA
Pratibha Sharma, GAIA India
Jane Bremmer, GAIA Asia Pacífico

Sabine Minninger, Pan para el Mundo/Brot für die Welt
Christine Lottje, Website


Alcalá de Guadaira – 13th Noviembre 2016

En inglés aquí

Los abajo firmantes creemos que los residuos son un recurso que debe ser tratado ante todo de acuerdo con el principio jerarquía de residuos, dando prioridad a los niveles superiores para la prevención de residuos, la reutilización, el reciclado, el rediseño. En vista del aumento del uso de residuos como combustible para la producción de cemento y las graves consecuencias que ello tiene sobre las comunidades locales en todo el mundo, afirmamos que la quema de residuos en cementeras no es una solución al cambio climático y la gestión de residuos, sino un lavado de cara verde de la industria del cemento que debe finalizar inmediatamente.

La producción de cemento es uno de los procesos industriales más intensivos energéticamente y con mayor contribución al cambio climático, consumiendo grandes cantidades de energía. Los datos de 2006 muestran que la industria del cemento contribuyó con alrededor del 8% de las emisiones antropogénicas de CO2, o el 6% de las emisiones totales de gases de efecto invernadero. En los últimos años, los esfuerzos para reducir estas emisiones se han centrado en el uso de los llamados “combustibles alternativos”, que son, invariablemente, distintos tipos de residuos (municipales, peligrosos, industriales, etc).

Por otra parte, informes del sector indican que las cementeras han estado quemando materiales de biomasa mezclados con residuos que no son biomasa, tales como pesticidas o lodos de depuradoras que contienen metales pesados. Al usarlo juntos bajo la misma etiqueta de ‘biomasa’, las plantas de cemento estan maquillando de verde el uso de residuos peligrosos como combustible. Además, las cementeras incluso usan neumáticos usados y coches fragmentados como “combustibles parcialmente de biomasa”, lo cual resulta falso ya que son en su mayoría plásticos hechos a partir de combustibles fósiles.

Mediante el uso de residuos como estos sustitutos de los combustibles fósiles, la industria del cemento está tratando de maquillar de verde sus tecnologías, las cuáles han sido denunciadas como un peligro para la salud pública y hacen poco para reducir el impacto ambiental de la industria del cemento.

La premisa ambiental de la quema de residuos se basa en el argumento incorrecto de que las emisiones de la fracción orgánica de los residuos son ‘neutrales’ en cuanto a emisiones de carbono, y éstas por lo tanto no necesitan ser contadas. Esta afirmación ha sido efectivamente refutada por el Comité Científico de la Agencia Europea del Medio Ambiente que definió ésta metodología como ‘un grave error metodológico”, así como el propio informe de Basura Cero Europa, que hace hincapié en que” todos los gases de efecto invernadero … “contribuyen al calentamiento global, independientemente de su origen”.

Los hornos de cemento, que no tienen forma de filtrar las emisiones gaseosas de sustancias peligrosas, entre otras los metales pesados volátiles (mercurio, talio, cadmio, etc.) son los segundos mayores emisores de mercurio en general. El impacto que tiene este tipo de contaminación en las comunidades de los alrededores ha sido bien documentado en los estudios científicos independientes que vinculan la incineración de residuos con una mayor morbilidad y mortalidad incluyendo incrementos en las tasas de cáncer, enfermedades respiratorias y aborto involuntario.

Se ha demostrado que existe un potencial para reducir las emisiones de efecto invernadero mucho mayor centrándose en los niveles más altos de la jerarquía de residuos y del tratamiento de los residuos como recurso valioso, es decir, gestionado de una manera consistente con los niveles prevención, reutilización, reciclaje y rediseño, siguiendo los principios de una estrategia de basura cero.

En lugar de quemar neumáticos, debemos reclamar los recursos para que sean reutilizados en otros usos. Asimismo, los residuos biológicos deben ser tratados de acuerdo con la jerarquía de residuos orgánicos, utilizarlo prioritariamente para elaborar compost o en su defecto, digestión anaeróbica.

La quema de los residuos en los hornos de cemento para el maquillaje verde de la industria es una laguna en la agenda medioambiental global, y es vital que esta opción se descarte. Hacemos un llamamiento para que la quema de residuos sea excluida de las definiciones de energía renovable, y los métodos de contabilidad para las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero se actualicen a este efecto. Las subvenciones que han estado apoyando los hornos de cemento para quemar los residuos deben ser revocadas inmediatamente. Debemos en primer lugar recuperar los recursos en los flujos de residuos, siguiendo el principio de la jerarquía de residuos de acuerdo con la legislación de la UE.



  • Alliance for Zero Waste Indonesia
  • Alliance for Zero Waste, Indonesia
  • Alwadi-ira, Spain
  • Alwadira, Spain
  • AMAR Environment Defense Association
  • Amigos de la Tierra, Spain
  • APROMAC Environment Protection Association
  • Asociacion de vecinos de Pallejà, Catalunya
  • BaliFokus Foundation, Indonesia
  • CESTA Amigos de la Tierra, Salvador
  • Centre d’Ecologia i Projectes Alternatius-Ecologistes de Catalunya
  • CHASE, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, Ireland
  • Citizens for a Safe Environment (CSE) Foundation of Toronto (Canada) Inc.
  • COLLECTIF 3R (Réduire, Réutiliser, Recycler), France
  • Consumers’ Association of Penang, Malaysia
  • Durham Environment Watch, US
  • Earthlife Africa Cape Town, South Africa
  • Eco-Cycle International, US
  • Ecological Recycling Society, Greece
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • Ecowaste Coalition, Philippines
  • Ekologi brez meja / Zero Waste Slovenija
  • Environmental associatino Za Zemiata (Bulgaria)
  • Equo Sevilla, Spain
  • Friends of the Earth Europe
  • FUNAM – Fundación para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente, Argentina
  • Fundacion Basura
  • Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, US
  • Greenpeace Spain
  • groundWork, South Africa
  • HCWH Europe
  • Instituto Polis, Brasil
  • JA!Jusica Ambiental/FOE Mozambique
  • Let’s do it Macedonia
  • Mother Earth Foundation, Philippines
  • Moviment Contra la Incineració a Uniland, Catalunya
  • No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo Cero, Spain
  • ODESC, Brasil
  • Paul Connett, PhD, American Environmental Health Studies Project Inc (AEHSP), US
  • Plataforma Cívica per la Salut i el Medi Ambient, Catalunya
  • Plataforma No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo 0
  • Platraforma contra la Incineración de residuos en la cementera de los Alcores
  • Red de Accion por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA)
  • Texas Campaign for the Environment & TCE Fund, US
  • TOXISPHERA Environmental Health Association
  • UK Without Incineration Network, UK
  • Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia
  • Zero Waste in Africa, South Africa
  • Zero Waste 4 Zero Burning
  • Zero Waste Italy
  • Zero Waste Montenegro
  • Zero Waste Romania
  • Zero Zabor Ingurumen Beserako Elkartea, Basque Country
  • ZWNW


Alcalá de Guadaira, Spain – 13th November 2016

In Español acquí

We the undersigned believe that waste is a resource which should be treated foremost according to the Waste Hierarchy, with priority being given to the upper tiers of waste prevention, reuse, recycling and redesign. In light of the increased use of waste as fuel for the production of cement and the severe impacts this is having on local communities worldwide, we state that the burning of waste in cement kilns is not a solution to climate change and waste management but greenwashing by the cement industry which should be stopped immediately.

Cement production is one of the most energy intensive industrial processes and is a major contributor to climate change. Data from 2006 shows that the cement industry contributed about 8% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, or 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, efforts to curb these emissions have centred around the use of so called ‘alternative fuel’ which is invariably different types of waste (municipal solid waste, hazardous waste, industrial waste, etc).

By using waste as replacement for fossil fuels, the cement industry is attempting to greenwash their technologies which have reportedly been a public health hazard and do little to reduce the environmental impact of the cement industry.

The environmental claim of waste burning is premised on the incorrect argument that emissions from the organic portion of waste are ‘carbon neutral’ and therefore do not need to be counted. This claim has been effectively refuted by the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency who called such accounting ‘a serious methodological mistake’ as well as Zero Waste Europe’s own report which emphasises that ‘all greenhouse gases… have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin’.

Moreover, cement plants have reportedly been burning biomass materials mixed with non-biomass residues such as pesticides or sewage sludge containing heavy metals. By using it together under the same ‘biomass’ label, the cement plants are greenwashing the use of hazardous waste as a fuel. Most worryingly, used tyres and fragmented cars are considered “partially biomass fuels” which is the greatest deception, as they are mostly fossil-fuel based plastic.

Cement kilns, which have no way to filter volatile heavy metals (mercury, thallium, cadmium etc.) are the second largest emitters of mercury overall. The impact that this pollution has on surrounding communities has been well documented with independent scientific studies linking waste incineration with increased morbidity and mortality including high rates of cancers, miscarriage and respiratory disease.

It has been shown that there is the potential to have a far greater positive impact on climate change by focusing on the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy and to treat waste as valuable resource, managed in a way consistent with the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy and following the principles of a zero waste strategy.

Instead of burning rubber tyres, we must reclaim the resources to be reused in other products. Likewise, biowaste should be dealt with according to the biowaste hierarchy, where possible first going to feed humans, then animals and only then be used for compost or anaerobic digestion.

The misguided burning of waste by cement kilns in order to improve their green credentials is a loophole which is being used to greenwash the industry, and it is vital that this option is ruled out. We call for the burning of waste to be excluded from the definition of renewable energy, and accounting methods for greenhouse gas emissions to be updated to reflect this. The subsidies which have been supporting cement kilns to burn waste need to be immediately revoked. We need to aim to first conserve resources from waste, by following the waste hierarchy according to EU legislation.



  • Alliance for Zero Waste Indonesia
  • Alwadira, Spain
  • AMAR Environment Defense Association
  • Amigos de la Tierra, Spain
  • APROMAC Environment Protection Association, Brazil
  • Asociacion de vecinos de Pallejà, Catalunya, Spain
  • BaliFokus Foundation, Indonesia
  • BaliFokus Foundation, Indonesia
  • CESTA Amigos de la Tierra, Salvador
  • CHASE, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, Ireland
  • Citizens for a Safe Environment (CSE) Foundation of Toronto (Canada) Inc.
  • COLLECTIF 3R (Réduire, Réutiliser, Recycler), France
  • Consumers’ Association of Penang, Malaysia
  • Durham Environment Watch, US
  • Earthlife Africa Cape Town, South Africa
  • Eco-Cycle International, US
  • Ecological Recycling Society, Greece
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • Ecowaste Coalition, Philippines
  • Ekologi brez meja / Zero Waste Slovenija, Slovenia
  • Environmental associatino Za Zemiata, Bulgaria
  • EQUO Sevilla, Spain
  • Friends of the Earth Europe
  • FUNAM – Fundación para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente, Argentina
  • Fundacion Basura, Chile
  • Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, US
  • Greenpeace Spain
  • groundWork, South Africa
  • HCWH Europe
  • Instituto Polis, Brazil
  • JA!Jusica Ambiental/FOE Mozambique
  • Let’s do it Macedonia
  • Mother Earth Foundation, Philippines
  • Moviment Contra la Incineració a Uniland, Catalunya
  • No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo Cero, Spain
  • ODESC, Brazil
  • Paul Connett, PhD, American Environmental Health Studies Project Inc (AEHSP), US
  • Plataforma Cívica per la Salut i el Medi Ambient, Catalunya, Spain
  • Plataforma No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo 0, Spain
  • Platraforma contra la Incineración de residuos en la cementera de los Alcores, Spain
  • Red de Accion por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA), Chile
  • Sahabat Alam (Friends of the Earth) Malaysia
  • Texas Campaign for the Environment & TCE Fund, US
  • TOXISPHERA Environmental Health Association, Brazil
  • United Kingdom Without Incineration Network, UK
  • Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia
  • Zero Waste 4 Zero Burning
  • Zero Waste in Africa, South Africa
  • Zero Waste Italy
  • Zero Waste Montenegro
  • Zero Waste Romania
  • Zero Zabor Ingurumen Beserako Elkartea, Basque Country
  • ZWNW, Ireland

UNFCCC approved incinerator reveals double standards in climate finance that undermine European climate policy

Waste pickers protest Okhla incinerator in 2011
Waste pickers protest the Okhla incinerator in 2011

A waste incineration plant in Delhi, India has been called a ‘multi-faceted disaster’ after local groups have uncovered evidence that the project may have been fraudulently claiming carbon credits for technologies that do not exist. Over the entire period of its operation the project has faced consistent criticism and protest from residents of the surrounding areas for pollution violations including the release of dangerous dioxins.

The incineration plant is radically different to the original plan approved by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The original plans included the establishment of an integrated Municipal Solid Waste Plant (MSWP), an industrial complex that would include two Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plants, a bio-methanation plant and a waste-to-energy incinerator plant. This plan would in itself have been a disaster, and was strongly opposed from the outset by local residents and environmentalists as an unsustainable waste management plant. However, the reality of the project falls well short of these original plans with the absence of the Bio-methanation plant and Refuse Derived Fuel plants. Originally approved on the basis that the project would avoid the need for landfills, which are a major social, health and environmental problem in India, the Okhla incinerator project has been allowed to claim carbon credits from the UNFCCC (under the former Clean Development Mechanism) for claimed, yet unproven, GHG emissions reductions.

Local residents, concerned about the health impacts of the incinerator have voiced strong objection to the project, and have gained the support of two major hospitals in the area. In 2009 the Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company (responsible for running the project) was taken to the Delhi High Court over claims of toxic emissions of heavy metals and dioxins several times the permissible limit, since then the case has been heard 28 times in the High Court and in 2013 the case was transferred to the National Green Tribunal (the fast track court for environmental cases) where it has been heard a further 21 times.

The Timarpur-Okhla wasteto- energy incinerator near Sukhdev Vihar. Photo: V. Sudershan
The Timarpur-Okhla wasteto- energy incinerator near Sukhdev Vihar. Photo: V. Sudershan

A representative of local residents of Sukhdev Vihar said “It is unfortunate that there is such blatant fraud on the UNFCCC’s carbon credit mechanism as well as on the conditions on which the environment clearance was granted by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change,” said Umesh C. Bahri, a resident of Sukhdev Vihar and a scientist familiar with accreditation processes. “While both entities have been notified of the fraud no action has been taken by either bodies or by the NGT.”

The project was originally received with strong criticism and opposition from the local and international community due to its poor climate credentials, in the context of increased questioning over the Energy Policy agenda in India. Scandalously, the project proponents have failed to deliver the very technologies that would supposedly assist in reducing GHG’s and utilise the resources contained in the waste stream in a more ecologically sustainable way. Instead, lesser quality and more polluting technology components have been included such as ‘Chinese Stoker Boilers’ which have been associated with massive protests across China.

The case of the Okhla incinerator seems to be a key example of misdirected carbon credits. The plant which claims to process 2,050 tonnes per day of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) has been accused of submitting a false monitoring report to the UNFCCC by including the bio-methanation and RDF plants in the Validation and CDM Monitoring reports when this technology is not actually included in the plant.

This has sparked outrage from environmental groups and local citizens in India who have launched a petition to the UNFCCC CDM Board. The petition calls for an immediate investigation into the plant, compensation for local residents and assurance that future credits will not be allocated to such polluting projects.

Bharati Chaturvedi, the founder and director of Chintan, an organisation that works with waste-pickers and recyclers for environmental justice said:“Climate change is about justice and sustainability, not about poisoning people and snatching away livelihoods. But this is what the Okhla waste-to-energy plant has done-displace nearly 300 waste pickers, and consequently, 63% of their children out of school. For this, it has received carbon credits. Is this how the world will fight climate change? By funding poverty creation? The new climate finance regime must put decent, sustainable livelihoods and the poor at its centre rather than expect technologies alone  to make the world cooler.”

Waste burning technologies are often misleadingly classified as generators of “renewable-energy” and are therefore categorised as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is based primarily on the flawed accounting method for the burning of the organic portion of waste whereby it is claimed that ‘emissions of CO2 of non-fossil origin can be ignored’. This is simply untrue. The atmosphere simply does not differentiate between sources of GHGs. Zero Waste Europe’s report ‘The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy’ demonstrates that  ‘the only correct way to proceed is to account for emissions of all greenhouse gases since they all have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin’.

“Incinerating waste, which are actually recyclables, deprives us of our already meagre livelihoods,” say Zainab Bibi one of an army of waste pickers engaged in collecting and recycling plastic waste in the Okhla area. “There is no alternate employment available to us.”

With incineration sitting firmly at the bottom of the waste-hierarchy it is clear that waste-to-energy incinerators such as the Timarpur-Okhla plant are net contributors to climate change. Their categorisation as ‘renewable-energy’ is based on a flawed accounting method which ignores the true climate impact of emissions from the burning of organics.

Smog over Delhi
Smog over Delhi

There are well documented and serious health impacts from waste to energy incinerators which emit heavy metals (such as lead & mercury) and dioxins which are classified persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and banned under the Stockholm Convention. POPS pose a global threat to human health and the environment due to their specific characteristics. They are toxic and persistent in the environment, can travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain.The promotion of waste incineration, the second largest emitting source of dioxin, is contrary to the intent of the convention.

Research has shown that for those living close to incinerators the risk of sarcoma (a type of cancer) is 3.3 times higher than those who do not live near a plant. The risk extends to other types of cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and preterm births as well as heart and respiratory disease. In India it is estimated that 1.59 million premature deaths happen every year due to air pollution.

The trade in carbon credits has consistently been shown to undermine European climate and waste policy, directing climate finance towards dirty-energy projects. The carbon market is regulated through the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is a greenhouse gas emissions offset scheme created under the Kyoto protocol. The scheme involves the trading of carbon credits called Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). The CDM is supposed to encourage sustainable development and help reduce overall emissions, however as GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) have noted the CDM frequently ends up supporting dirty energy, incinerators and landfills in the Global South, often far worse than would be permitted in the Northern countries. A replacement for the CDM was agreed upon at the COP21 in Paris, and will be negotiated at the COP22 in Marrakech in November.

In Europe the trading of carbon credits issued by the CDM has been regulated by the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) legislation which allows member states to purchase the credits. This has seen landfill gas systems, and waste incinerators, both at the bottom of Waste Hierarchy, sell credits into the EU market, undermining progressive EU legislation on waste.

Paris, the location of the UNFCCC COP21. Photo: B. Giambelluca
Paris, the location of the UNFCCC COP21. Photo: B. Giambelluca

With the Paris treaty being agreed last December at the COP21 summit, a new offset mechanism is being developed. The Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) aims to supersede the CDM and ‘contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development’. Many aspects of the SDM are currently undefined and will be clarified at the COP22 summit taking place in Marrakech, Morocco in November.

Critical to the success of  the Sustainable Development Mechanism will be the credibility and reliability of ‘sustainable development definitions’ particularly related to waste management. It is therefore essential that any future definition excludes landfill gas systems, and waste to energy incinerators including cement kilns burning waste, from generating credits. If such a definition is adopted it will prevent a repeat of the cases where EU member states effectively supported waste management projects which would not have been approved in their own countries.

The case of the Timarpur-Okhla waste-to-energy incineration plant demonstrates why it is so important that the future of carbon trading accounts for the climate and social impacts of waste management technologies. Furthermore, the social and environmental justice of communities in the global south must be upheld and protected from the misguided trade of carbon credits and false carbon accounting related to any UNFCCC subsidised waste management project. It is clear that any future implementation of emissions trading in Europe needs to ensure compatibility with existing EU legislation on waste, giving primacy to the waste-hierarchy and ensure that the projects can demonstrably prove their GHG emissions reductions. Anything less simply risks repeating historical and colonialist approaches to well intentioned aid and support for developing nations.

The Italian recipe against food waste


It’s well known that Italian people consider food as one of the “pleasures of life” but maybe what is less known is that Italian consumers waste per year on average over 100 kg, more than their own weight!

To tackle this situation the Italian Parliament, has recently approved a law against food waste (19 August 2016, n.166), following the example of France. The main aims of the law are:

  • Promoting the recovery and donation of food surpluses for charitable purposes, using firstly for human consumption, secondly for animal consumption and finally for composting (or composting with aerobic digestion). It, thus, introduces an implicit food waste hierarchy.

  • Minimising the negative impacts on the environment and on natural resources, reducing waste generation, encouraging reuse and recycle, extending products life.

The operators of the food sector – both public and private, profit orientated or non-profit– now are able to give away for free their food surplus to the donors, which can then be directed first to people in need, reducing bureaucracy. This is a major step from former legislation that basically “forced” them to throw their surpluses in the garbage.

In addition to food surplus, it is possible to give up also medicine and unused pharmaceutical products, foodstuffs and bakery products (which otherwise, if remain unsold have to be thrown away after 24 h from the production).

Unlike France, Italy aims in toto for incentives, no penalties are provided for those who does not conform to it. Tax benefits are also provided. In fact, to encourage this practice the municipalities may apply a reduction on the TARI, the Italian waste charge, proportional with the quantity, duly certified, of goods and products withdrawn from sale and donated.

Beyond the noble charitable aims of this law, fight against food waste is also really important from the environmental point of view. It is an issue of high importance because of its high environmental impacts, above all related with energy and water consumption, climate change, availability of natural resources, land use and, eventually, waste management. Indeed, if food waste was a country, it has been calculated that it would be the third largest “emitter” of CO2 worldwide, just behind the USA and China! Moreover, 1/4 of Italian forests serve just to absorb carbon dioxide produced as a result of food waste, in Italy alone.

Reducing food waste around the world would mitigate climate change effects, according to a recent study made by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impart Research (PIK), up to 14% of GHG emissions from the agricultural sector could be avoided by managing better food use.

Local composting
Local composting

Around 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU, with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros.

In this, Italy is going in the right direction… encouraging best practices, highlighting again the difference between “best before” and “use by” and reaffirming that all food discarded by the food supply chain for commercial or aesthetic reasons (like few packaging flaws), or proximity to the expiry date, are not waste but good food that can be safely consumed!

The winning “recipe”, that would be worthy of a 3 stars Michelin restaurant, consists of improving the food chain efficiency, promoting different models of production and, above all, sustainable consumption. This would allow not only a reduction in the cost of food, increasing the possibility of access for lower-income people, but also a significantly lower environmental and economic impact of this wastage!

Press Release: MEPs support the end to harmful subsidies to waste-to-energy incineration

For immediate release: Brussels, October 19, 2016

Today, on the International Day of Action on Bioenergy, several MEPs have expressed their support to phase out harmful subsidies that drive waste-to-energy incineration.

Across the EU, waste-to-energy incinerator plants receive financial support in various forms (i.e. feed-in tariff, tax exemption, premium taxes, etc) to produce so-called “renewable energy” from burning the organic portion of residual mixed waste – food waste from restaurants, households, farmers markets, gardens, textiles, clothing, paper and other materials of organic origin.

According to the Bioenergy Policy Paper released today by Zero Waste Europe, these subsidies are one of the major obstacles to achieving a Circular Economy, as most of these materials could be recycled or composted. This incineration process has severe consequences for climate change and air quality due to the huge amounts of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions released.

Ultimately, organic waste should be treated according to the Organic Waste Hierarchy, ensuring proper source-separation and giving priority to composting and biogas generation, after human and animal feed.


I have been fighting against environmentally harmful subsidies in this parliament since a long time. These are one of the main obstacles to the uptake of the circular economy. Waste to-energy incineration is not a sustainable waste management treatment and the emissions from incineration damage the environment and human health. It is now the time for the EU to stand strongly against this harmful practice and redirect investments towards prevention and composting of organic waste.


“In a circular economy there is no waste. Discarded products and materials are reused or re-manufactured. As a final option they are recycled or used biologically. ‘Waste’ consists of finite resources and therefore shouldn’t be incinerated. Counting incineration as renewable energy is an absolute no-go.”


“We should definitely aim for greater renewable energy shares, but we need to respect the waste hierarchy over incineration. Incineration goes against the concept of Circular Economy and the waste hierarchy, which favours the reduction of the amount of wasted resources, the increase of their lifecycle and encourages recycling, and so does the EU renewable energy policies which are encouraging the burning of biomass resources, including waste and by-products, as renewable energy. Moreover EU Funds shall not be used to finance waste-energy infrastructure, as incineration practices are not only environmentally harmful (as they are greenhouse emissions contributor); but also, dioxins, produced by waste incineration have shown to be lingering in the bodies of people and identified as the cause of many cancers”.


“The energy produced by incinerating waste can be called “renewable” only if G. Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” philosophy is applied, namely “war is peace” and “freedom is slavery”.

Organic material is recyclable into useful compost, but when burned it becomes instead useless and harmful ash. By providing public support to waste-to-energy, they are simply reducing into ashes the citizens’ money.”


“We need to redirect spending to reducing waste and climate emissions and weed out perverse subsidies which encourage us to carry on producing waste for energy purposes – a double blow for the planet.”


“We must stop investing in damaging incineration that runs counter to the idea of a circular economy and undermines a waste hierarchy which prioritises waste prevention, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion.”



  1. Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system.
  2. Harmful subsidies to waste-to-energy incineration: a pending issue for the Renewable Energy Directive and Bioenergy Sustainability Policy –

New zero waste comic released

Middle Pages of Fran's Comic

A new comic has been released by the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN). The comic, titled ‘Everything Goes Somewhere’ features intricate illustration and lettering from Frances Howe, and can be purchased at UKWIN website.

The illustrated comic is a work of art in itself and can be used to communicate the message that incineration has no places in a circular economy where we need to look towards zero waste solutions.

Within the first week of publication, the pamphlet has already sold more than 1,000 copies and is currently being translated into Bahasa Indonesia, making it more accessible across South-East Asia.

For Frances the project took 9 months of work from the conception of the idea to the release, and made up a part of their Masters Degree in Graphic Arts. The project received research and administrative assistance from Zero Waste Europe and UKWIN leading the the publication of this amazing document.

The front cover of the comic

The illustrator Frances Howe elaborated on their work, saying “My work attempts to generate debate and provoke more questions than it answers. I like working with visual narratives because they provide different ways for people to experience a piece of work. For example, do they focus on the pictures or the text? Do they read it in a linear way or take it in all at once? This makes comics an inherently democratic medium because the viewer has so much choice about how to interact with it.

“I wanted to make comics about extreme energy in general, and waste incineration in particular, because it brings up a lot of topics and questions that are not always easy to discuss; questions about energy, climate change, pollution, social and environmental justice, as well as consumption, capitalism, local democracy and community agency for change.

“My hope is that using a medium such as comics, which encourages freer thought and associations between things, can help people to engage with these topics in a way that gives them more agency to get involved in making change.”

The comics are printed in full colour on two sides of durable A1 card which has been folded down to A4, and can fold out to be used as a poster highlighting the necessity for a move to a zero waste world.

The comics can be purchased from the UKWIN website with discounts available for buying larger quantities.

Wood Waste: Recycle, Bury, or Burn? Jeffrey Morris Gives an Answer.

Wood Yard at Schiller Station
Wood Yard at Schiller Station

Whilst the European Commission is trying to shape a policy for the sustainable use of biomass for energy purposes as part of the revision to the Renewable Energy Directive, new research has shown that the use of wood waste biomass does not fit the sustainability criteria.

Dr. Jeff Morris, expert on cradle-to-cradle and cost benefit analysis is the senior economist and principal at Sound Resource Management Group, Inc., has undertaken research on the life cycle analysis(LCA) of clean wood waste management methods, which has been peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology earlier this month.

Sharing his findings with the GAIA and Zero Waste International Alliance networks, Morris explained:

“This LCA shows that wood waste combustion for electricity, heat energy or combined heat and power (CHP) is typically the least preferable management option from a combined climate, human health and ecosystems impacts perspective versus recycling into reconstituted wood products or papermaking pulp, or even versus landfilling with methane capture and flaring or use to generate electricity. Only in the case of replacing high-sulfur-coal burning that uses minimal emissions controls does wood burning for heat energy look slightly better for climate impacts versus recycling the wood wastes.

But even then wood waste burning doesn’t win out versus recycling for overall environmental performance including human and ecosystems health in addition to climate impacts. Wood burning loses versus landfilling with methane capture when wood replaces coal that is not high in sulfur and both the wood and coal burning facilities have better than minimal emissions controls.

In other words, wood wastes burn dirty just as coal does and only get a slight edge against landfilling when wood wastes displace high sulfur coal when both wood and coal are burned in facilities that don’t do much to control their atmospheric emissions.

This LCA does for wood waste combustion what Tim Searchinger, Mary Booth and many others have shown for burning whole trees for power or heat. Whether whole trees or wood wastes from construction/demolition debris or from logging sites, burning wood is not an environmentally friendly source of energy.”

The article is in the Early View area for the Journal of Industrial Ecology and can be downloaded for free until the end of September.

Further reading:

ZWE response to the consultation on bioenergy

Press release

Blog by Mariel Vilella, climate policy campaigner & associate director of Zero Waste Europe for

Press Release: Circular Economy can be a game-changer to reach ESR targets

For immediate release: Brussels, September 27 2016

Contact: Mariel Vilella , Zero Waste Europe Climate Policy Campaigner & Associate Director-

Zero Waste Europe[1] has responded to the consultation on the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) by highlighting the contribution that the waste sector can bring to a low-carbon economy, and calling the European Commission to have higher ambition.

In the response submitted today[2], Zero Waste Europe pointed out that the implementation of the Circular Economy Package could deliver far more GHG emission reductions than the total amount targeted by the implementation of the ESR, if GHG emissions savings from recycling and reduction of waste were accounted for, which shows that there is very significant room for improvement.

Recent research calculated[3] the climate benefit from the optimal implementation of the Circular Economy Package waste targets (2014 version). Assuming the implementation of a 70% recycling, 30% of food waste reduction, and an 80% recycling of packaging waste, the EU would save 190 million/tonnes CO2-eq/year, which would be the equivalent to the total annual emissions of the Netherlands.

In comparison, the overall ESR proposal expects to reduce is 1,000 million/tonnes for the period 2021-2030, an average of 111 million/tonnes per year[4]. This lower figure partly responds to the fact that the ESR is not taking into consideration the recycling and waste reduction related targets from the Circular Economy Package.

In this sense, with the proper accounting methodologies in place, the ESR ambition could be much higher and more coherent with the sectoral policies.

“The Effort Sharing Regulation should set mitigation targets that are consistent with the targets of the Circular Economy Package, making sure that the two sets of policies are coherent. These policies are called to drive the transition across sectors to a low-carbon economy, ensuring actual emission reductions and creative solutions for a long-lasting, inclusive change,“ said Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Climate Policy Campaigner & Associate Director.

Furthermore, the response highlights that zero waste solutions, alongside climate action in other sectors, will contribute to achieving the global target of a maximum of 1.5 degrees global warming, embracing the principles of conservation of materials, the reduction of toxics, equitable distribution, and access to resources.

The response submitted by Zero Waste Europe is available to download on our website.

Contact: Mariel Vilella , Zero Waste Europe Climate Policy Campaigner & Associate Director-


  1. Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system.
  2. Zero Waste Europe’s official response to the ESR consultation:
  3. The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy, Eunomia/ZWE, 2015.
  4. The EU 2016 Reference Scenario, see here:

Press Release: Zero Waste Europe – New ESR proposal is promising but lacks strength

For Immediate Release: Brussels 25 July, 2016

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in key economic sectors such as waste management by 30% by 2030, but warns that potential loopholes from the EU’s carbon market as well as credits from forestry to offset emissions in those sectors would seriously undermine the EU’s commitment to combating climate change.

Under the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), EU Member States are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% in sectors outside the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) – including waste, transport, buildings and agriculture. These sectors represent almost 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the EU.

Zero Waste Europe believes that all sectors, including waste management, have to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Janek Vahk, Zero Waste Europe´s Development and Policy Coordinator said. “Under the new ESR, Member States will be obliged to reduce their GHG emissions by 30%, but these higher targets will not necessarily deliver real mitigation action at the scale of transformation needed unless there is strong coordination and alignment with other sectoral policies such as Circular Economy.”

As acknowledged by the European Commission, the Circular Economy Package has the potential to further reduce emissions in the waste sector and beyond, and this is an opportunity that should not be missed.

The Effort Sharing Regulation could be an important tool to incentivise Member States to develop effective climate mitigation actions in the waste management sector. Recent research calculated that the optimal implementation of the Circular Economy Package waste targets (2014 version) would save 190 million/tones CO2-eq/year, which would be the equivalent to the total annual emissions of the Netherlands.”

Ferran Rosa, Zero Waste Europe’s Waste Policy Officer said: “the Circular Economy Package can contribute massively to climate mitigation. Although the biggest environmental and climate benefits are in prevention, the Circular Economy Package fails to propose any EU-wide objective of waste prevention”.

Zero Waste Europe calls on the European Parliament and Member States to strengthen the EU’s largest climate legislation by exploiting the synergies with the Circular Economy Package and other legislation, and including prevention policies specifically tackling those waste streams that could deliver significant climate benefits, such as food waste, textiles or plastics. Failing that, these sectors will likely remain largely unimproved, and a number of loopholes will threaten the implementation of the ESR.

Youth group highlight waste at the climate talks: the YOUNGO Zero Waste Working Group


This blog is a guest post from the Zero Waste Working Group within the YOUNGO (the Youth NGO constituency under the UNFCCC). They were present in Paris during the COP21 Climate Negotiations and have committed to advocating for zero waste as a climate change solution. You can get in touch with them by contacting Zero Waste Europe, or through their Facebook group.

It is argued that the “Waste” sector accounts only for a limited part of the GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions on a global level, yet it can be easily verified that the potential contribution of waste prevention and management to climate change mitigation could be much more remarkable than initially expected. In addition, considering the principles of circular economy, it is clear that resources should be continually cycling through the system, allowing us to build an exit strategy from landfills and incineration. In the light of these conclusions, a group of committed young people decided to be the voice of the Zero Waste movement at the UNFCCC climate talks by creating a Zero Waste Working Group within YOUNGO, the Youth NGO constituency under the UNFCCC, which includes youth organisations acting on climate from all over the world.


The YOUNGO Zero Waste working group was born at COP21 in Paris, and it is composed of young people living in three continents (Europe, America, Oceania) who share the same drive for spreading the good practices for a zero waste world. The purpose of our group is to create a global network of young people who believe that Zero Waste is not only possible, but necessary. Therefore, we are looking to spread this message and simultaneously working on projects, policy and research that lead us towards a Zero Waste planet. Furthermore, we want to act as a platform where young people can share knowledge and expertise on the connection between climate change and waste management and how it can be used as a mitigation tool in accordance with the outcome of the Paris Agreement.

Before the COP21, the vast majority of Parties had sent their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) to the UNFCCC Secretariat. INDCs include the mitigation efforts which countries want to focus on in order to decrease their GHG emissions. As a first step, we drafted a policy statement to be handed over to Delegates. It summarises our policy recommendations:

  1. Include waste management as an integral part of climate mitigation policy
  2. Waste policies should manage waste in the higher tiers of the waste management hierarchy (i.e. recycling or above)
  3. Discontinue support for all forms of “renewable” energy generated from residual waste
  4. Implement circular economy and product stewardship incentives
  5. Recognize the numerous and significant co-benefits of a zero waste policy

In fact, our work is mainly focused on individual countries (possibly through INDCs, industry and government lobbying) and Delegates. We want to highlight the positive correlation between Zero Waste and the emissions reduction through waste minimisation, making it really tangible. Currently, we are working on diverse strategies, and the support of Zero Waste Europe, as well as of GAIA, would be an asset for us. We have the potential to build up a wide youth network in all of these regards, working on actionable and unifying initiatives.

The opening plenary of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Paris Agreement
The opening plenary of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Paris Agreement

Our first next steps will be to search through INDCs for specific mentions of waste/Zero Waste as climate change mitigation tool to create a list of countries who are moving forward on this issue. Moreover, a table divided into different categories will be created (Zero Waste as most preferred – waste-to-energy/landfill as least preferred) with a sort of rank for countries. The final idea would be to approach these countries at COP22 in Marrakech (Morocco) or at intercessionals accordingly to their “performance”. Another point is the running of campaigns that may include some focus on incineration and cradle-to-cradle ideas. We will also continue to use the YOUNGO Zero Waste Facebook group to keep ourselves posted as we nail down our plans and to share information. Lastly, it is utmost important proposing to the UN to make conferences like COP zero waste – perhaps through lobbying activities with either the Secretariat or the COP22 Moroccan Presidency; it is noteworthy, however, that efforts in this direction have already been made previously for the organisation of the COP21 in Paris and at the last intersessional in Bonn which both incorporated zero waste aspects into their events (APA1/SB44).

There will be space to get in direct contact with the COY12 (Conference of Youth, 12th edition) organisers to probe their willingness in this regard, as we will be likely to attend in mid-July the Mediterranean Youth Climate Forum in Tangier, Morocco. Making the COY12 a zero waste event will give continuity to what has been done in Paris for the COY11, which was the first COY to adopt a zero waste plan, with the collaboration of Zero Waste France.

In conclusion, the Zero Waste working group is eager to increase its network within the climate and waste community, trying to create new avenues that would not have otherwise accomplished. We welcome any contribution and would be keen to set up collaborations with other associations or simply individuals who share this common cause with the same drive and motivation.

You know where to find us and we are looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Air pollution negotiations: falling short of breath

Air pollution image blog post

After 2 years of negotiations, the EU Directive regulating air pollution targets at the national level (National Ceiling Emission Directive)1 have concluded with strong disagreement and no apparent result.

A proposal put forward by the European Commission and the European Parliament with strong commitments in tackling air pollution was watered down by several Member States, and then rejected by the Parliament. Following that rejection, the Environmental Council (gathering the Environment Ministers from Members States) met in a final attempt to unblock the negotiations, but no result was achieved so far. Next steps are yet to be announced.

One of the most positive aspects of the proposal put forward by the European Commission was the inclusion of targets for Particulate Matter (PM 2.5), which are often the result of unsustainable waste disposal practices, particularly waste incineration or so-called waste-to-energy incineration.

Zero Waste Europe called on policymakers to maintain high ambition on the following letter, reminding them that a recent study that looked into a medium sized city in southwestern Sweden, clearly identified their new modern incinerator as the single most significant source of PM2.5’s.2

Moreover, the letter pointed out that further critical pollution is caused by ultra fine particles, calling for air pollution reduction at the source, strict monitoring and transparency mechanisms.

Evidence from the waste incineration industry shows that filter bag systems used to collect the PM and other toxic emissions have a much lower efficiency rate with fine PM<2.5: “…baghouse filter collection efficiency was 95-99% for PM10s, 65-70% for PM2.5s, and only 5-30% for particles smaller than 2.5 microns, even before the filters become coated with lime and activated carbon”.3


As shown by the report Air Polution from Waste Disposal: Not for Public Breath, waste incineration activities have had serious breaches of emission limits and have experienced other significant technical and legal problems, both in incineration facilities and cement plants across Europe. Case studies in the UK, France, Slovenia, Spain and Germany exposed a number of environmental, procedural and technical issues faced by waste incinerators, producing an excessive and unsustainable amount of air pollution, particularly PM.4

Main countries that opposed the proposal by the EC were the UK, France, Poland and Italy. In the light of the Brexit results, the proposal may need to be reconsidered in any case. Hopefully it will be an opportunity to increase ambition and protect the air we all breath.

1 The NEC Directive sets caps on the amount of air pollution that EU countries can emit. It currently looks at caps for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3), and methane (CH4), to be met by Member States by 2020, 2025 and 2030.



Howard C.V., The health impacts of incineration, with particular reference to the toxicological effects of ultrafine particulate aerosols, organo-chlorines and other emissions. Proof of Evidence submitted to East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Local Plan Public Inquiry, 2003.


On World Environment Day, Majorca presents its plans to start moving away from incineration


Waste management in Majorca has been for long associated with the incineration of waste. With the biggest waste-to-energy incineration plant in Southern Europe, the system has been shaped and impacted by this mega-infrastructure: with average separate collection at 15% and having reached the point of importing waste from Ireland and Italy to feed the facility.

However, after a change of government on the island, the region and most of the cities, a new and more environmentally friendly model of waste management is starting to take shape. Fortunately waste is no longer imported to be burned and cities, towns and villages of the island are starting to wake up and transition towards a new model.

Among the discussions for this new model, the city of Palma (the capital of the island with 400,000 inhabitants) chose the World Environment Day to organise a conference on waste management to learn about good practices that will help them designing a new model for the city. The conference presented good examples of waste management on the island, with the prominent cases of Porreres or Artà, that have recently joined the limited but growing group of towns above 70% separate collection on the island and are introducing an ambitious pay-as-you-throw scheme.

image: Andrés Nieto Porras (CC BY-SA 2.0)
image: Andrés Nieto Porras (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In addition to this, the conference focused on the role of economic incentives to help improve waste management, with examples like the bonus/malus tax on waste disposal existing in Catalonia, or the inclusion of pay-as-you-throw schemes in the tourist sector.

The conference was closed by Zero Waste Europe who presented their holistic vision of waste management and to provide good examples from the Network of Zero Waste Cities and from zero waste entrepreneurs. These examples were complemented with specific advice on how to bring Palma closer to Zero Waste.

The city representatives took note of these proposals, and advanced the introduction of compulsory bio-waste collection and door-to-door collection for some neighbourhoods, along with work on waste prevention.

All in all, the conference showed that there are alternatives to traditional waste management and that even for an island with the largest incineration plant, it is possible to start shifting.

Urban biowaste, a sustainable source of bioenergy?

This article was originally written by Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director & Climate, Energy & Air Pollution Campaigner for the EU BIoenergy Blog

Although most bioenergy is produced by burning agricultural and forestry biomass, it is also generated by burning the organic parts of municipal solid waste, biowaste or urban biomass. This includes food waste from restaurants, households, farmers markets, gardens, textiles, clothing, paper and other materials of organic origin. But have you ever tried to fuel a bonfire with a salad? Probably not, so this may not be the most efficient use of urban biowaste.

At the EU level, urban biowaste, far from being managed by one set of straightforward policies, is instead held at the intersection of several competing mandates: the circular economy, climate, bioenergy and air pollution. Policies which have an impact, yet fail to drive the most sustainable use of this resource.

Most waste and circular economy policies aim at increasing recycling and resource efficiency of urban biowaste resources by promoting composting and biogas production, while climate and energy policies incentivize burning biowaste to generate energy under the assumption that the energy produced is ‘renewable’, ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘sustainable’. This presents a significant contradiction at the heart of EU environmental policy, one that gets particularly hot within the current sustainable bioenergy debate.

Far from being ‘sustainable’, energy from urban biowaste is often produced under very inappropriate circumstances, particularly when organic waste is mixed with the rest of residual waste (anything that cannot be recycled or reused) and sent to an incineration plant or so-called waste-to-energy plant. These plants then claim that the burning of this organic fraction is ‘bioenergy’ or ‘renewable energy’. In the UK, for example, incinerator companies can claim that an average of 50% of the energy produced is ‘renewable’ under these assumptions.[1]

Under the Waste Hierarchy, incineration of municipal solid waste is not only one of the worst options for waste treatment, it’s actually a real waste of energy and resources when one considers the low calorific value of organic waste. Incineration is a terribly unfit technology to burn organic waste which then requires a significant amount of high caloric materials to be added, e.g., plastics or other potentially recyclable or ‘redesignable’ materials so that it functions properly. Under these circumstances, efficiency and sustainability do not score highly. But even more troubling, the financial and political support that should be committed to clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energy is being misused in the most inefficient way by supporting the burning of resources which could be composted, recycled, reused or simply never wasted to begin with.

Today in the EU, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, because they continue to finance and green-wash the construction of waste-burning facilities across Europe. What should be done with urban biowaste instead? The Waste Hierarchy as seen below provides a clear detailed guideline which should be at the foundation of any policy looking at Municipal Solid Waste.

ILSR food waste recovery hierarchy




First, organic waste can be reduced through various measures, e.g.,  improved labeling, better portioning, awareness raising and educational campaigns around food waste and home composting. Secondly, priority should be given to the recovery of edible food so that it is targeted at human consumption first, and alternatively used as animal feed. Next, non-edible organic waste should be composted and used as fertiliser for agriculture, soil restoration and carbon sequestration. Additionally, garden trimmings, discarded food and food-soiled paper should be composted in low-tech small-scale process sites whenever possible. In larger areas, composting could be done in a centralised way with more technologically advanced systems.

As an alternative to composting, depending on local circumstances and the levels of nitrogen in the soils, non-edible organic waste should be used  to produce biogas through Anaerobic Digestion technology, a truly renewable source of energy as well as  soil enhancer. If there was any organic waste within the residual waste stream, a Material Recovery – Biological Treatment (MRBT) could be considered because it allows for the recovery of dry materials for further recycling and stabilizes the organic fraction prior to landfilling, with a composting-like process. In the lower tier, landfill and incineration are the least preferable and last resort options.

Ultimately, energy policies for a low-carbon economy should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resource use.

Zero Waste Europe network and many other organisations around the world have called on the European Commission to use the Waste Hierarchy to guide the EU’s post-2020 sustainable bioenergy policy and phase out harmful subsidies that support energy from waste incineration. The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive and the development of a Sustainable Policy on Bioenergy is an opportunity for Europe to become a leader in sustainable and renewable energy, but it’s critical to ensure that these sources are clean, efficient and their use evidence-based.


Banner photo: Composting (c) Zero Waste Europe

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog post are those of the author and not necessarily supported by BirdLife Europe/EEB/T&E.

Policy Briefing: the Waste Sector under the Effort Sharing Decision

Today, Zero Waste Europe released a new policy briefing on the waste sector under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) with key recommendations to ensure real GHG emission reductions in the waste sector.

Read the full Policy Briefing

Greenpeace volunteers end incinerator occupation. Eleven Greenpeace volunteers ended their occupation of Sheffield incinerator after protecting the people of the city of polluting gases for three days. The volunteers occupying the plant maintain that they acted lawfully but have agreed to comply with an injunction from Leeds High Court ©Greenpeace/Sims GREENPEACE HANDOUT/NO ARCHIVING /NO MAGAZINES
Greenpeace volunteers end incinerator occupation.
Eleven Greenpeace volunteers ended their occupation of Sheffield incinerator after protecting the people of the city of polluting gases for three days.

The Effort Sharing Decision, which will set targets for GHG emission reduction in the waste sector for 2030, has so far considered only a portion of emissions in the waste sector, mainly those related to landfills and incinerators.

However, this assumption is misguided and incorrect, as the waste sector involves a much larger range of activities and a much larger portion of GHG emissions that unfortunately go unaccounted. In fact, the waste sectors contribution to GHG emission reduction has enormous potential when support is given to the higher tiers of the Waste hierarchy -including reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, biogas generation, sustainable consumption and production, and it can be a game-changer to the development of a low-carbon economy.

“The waste sector is a large and untapped sector with a significant potential for cost effective mitigation.”

Looking at the potential contribution of the waste sector to a low-carbon economy, recent research calculated the climate contribution from the optimal implementation of the Circular Economy Package waste targets (2014 version). Assuming the implementation of a 70% recycling, 30% of food waste reduction, and an 80% recycling of packaging waste, the EU would save 190 million/tones CO2 -eq/year, which would be the equivalent to the total annual emissions of the Netherlands.


“Unreported emissions from incineration of waste act as a loophole in the EU GHG emission accounting”

The Effort Sharing Decision 2030 framework has the potential to further reduce emissions in the waste sector, and this is an opportunity that should not be missed. In order to deliver effective GHG emission reductions, the new 2030 framework should follow some key recommendations both for the overall framework and in particular for the waste sector:

  1. Be aligned with the Circular Economy Package and the Waste Hierarchy, ensure support for the most environmental and cost-effective options for reducing emissions in the waste sector. This will lead to significant GHG emission reductions and reinforce the synergies between European climate, energy and waste legislation.
  2. Increase ambition in line with the Paris Agreement, with a long-term goal to limit temperature increase to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts for limiting it to 1.5°C. This will require the development of a solid set of guidelines and robust governance to ensure the effective implementation of sectoral policies.
  3. Avoid loopholes and apply the correct carbon accounting of biogenic emissions from biowaste or biomass. The reformed ESD should contribute to correct carbon accounting of bioenergy emissions and secure strict compliance with bioenergy sustainability criteria in order to guarantee real emissions savings.
  4. Avoid the use of surplus allowances from the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to increase the appropriate incentives for the development of a low-carbon economy where real emissions reductions are guaranteed.
  5. Support Member States’ ability to meet their climate targets and provide guidance for governance and compliance, including annual reduction targets and effective corrective actions to avoid non-compliance as well as transparency mechanisms to allow effective monitoring of Member States’ action.

With the incorporation of these recommendations Effort Sharing Decision would dramatically increase its effectiveness in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, particularly the otherwise underestimated portion from the waste sector.

Read and download the full policy briefing on our website

20,000 people oppose incineration in Florence

Tens of thousands of people marched in Florence, Italy on Saturday May 14th, in opposition to the incineration project in the city. With over 200 groups supporting the action over 20,000 people turned out to express their opposition to the incinerator. Around the world campaigning groups and activists demonstrated their support for the people of Florence.

Watch Zero Waste Italy’s video from the demonstration:

The local group Mamme No Incineritore had a strong presence on the demonstration, presenting a powerful message of opposition to the incineration plans for Florence.

Mamme No Incineritore, Florence, May 14th
Mamme No Incineritore, Florence, May 14th

Campaigners from Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth) Bulgaria organised a solidarity action with messages in support of the demonstration in Florence.

In the UK, the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) sent a message of support from their Annual General Meeting to the people of Florence. Stating ‘DON’T BURN OUR FUTURE’.

UKWIN demonstrating solidarity with Florence at their AGM
UKWIN demonstrating solidarity with Florence at their AGM

Other groups who expressed their support included the Philippine Mother Earth Foundation and the EcoWaste Coalition.

Overall the massive demonstration of opposition to the incinerator in Florence struck a significant blow to the Italian plans, and signified an important victory for the zero waste movement in Italy, demonstrating their strength and unity in fighting for a new waste paradigm, which follows the Waste Hierarchy and puts the idea of burning waste on the trash heap where it belongs.

Human chain to stop incinerator in Gipuzkoa

cadena humana gipuzkoa

On Sunday May 29 2016 citizens in Gipuzkoa have come together to hold hans in a human chain uniting thousands of citizens against the proposal to build an incinerator in Zubieta. 5000 people were needed to create this human chain from the Oncologic Hospital and the Regional government but the support for the action has been such that the human chain has turned into a big demonstration in the streets of the capital of the basque province, Donosti, San Sebastian.

The mobilisation wanted to deliver to the authorities a letter written by the association of doctors Onkologikoa. The message was placed inside a box and given to a child, who leading a comitive of cyclists has driven along the human chain until the Gizpuzkoa Square where sits the regional authority responsible for the construction of the incinerator.

The message read “There are many reasons to be against this incinerator, but as doctors we want to emphasize: incinerators are harmful to health” has started reading the doctor Xabier Mitxelena. He indicated that “we do not want that, through neglect, repeat what happened with asbestos. Several years after thinking it was safe, now many people who have worked with asbestos are dying of cancer. “


gipuzkoa speech

To give credence to these words the event welcomed the presence of Clara Perales, a resident of Rivas-Vaciamadrid, suburb of Madrid who has lived 4.5 kilometers close to the waste incinerator of Valdemingómez. She affirmed that she never had serious health problems until the incinerator started operating when she started to suffer respiratory problems which in 2014 resulted in a blood cancer in Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


Clara Perales cried “I am not the only one with cancer in my community. In my block of ten houses we are ten people; out of which two have died and three are being treated with chemotherapy. You are still in time to stop this incinerator in Zubieta. Health and clean air is a common good and have no ideology”.


Teresa Lopez de Munain, on behalf of the organisers of the event, continued reading the manifesto of the event and reminded to anyone who would want to listen; “Those who have a brain don’t want an incinerator close to their homes but those who have a heart don’t want an incinerator anywhere close to anything”

Mentions of this event in the press:

– El Diario Norte “Miles de personas en la cadena humana contra la incineradora de Gipuzkoa
– Diario Vasco “Milaka lagun bildu dira Donostian, erraustegiaren aurkako giza katean“, “Miles de personas forman una cadena humana en contra de la incineradora“.
– El Mundo “Miles de personas forman una cadena contra la incineradora
– ARGIA “Milaka pertsonak osatu du giza katea Donostian errauskailuaren aurka“, “Giza kate erraldoiak ezetz esan dio errauskailuari Donostian
– Berria “Milaka lagunek egin dute bat erraustegiaren aurka
– Noaua ““Aurreikuspenak oso modu nabarmenean gainditu dira”“, “Erraustegiaren Aurkako Mugimendua: “Denon artean geldituko dugu”“, “Xabier Mitxelena (OEIT): “Ardura printzipioa aplika dezatela”“, “[Bideoa] Giza katea, maiatzak 29“.
– Txintxarri “Eskutatik helduta, erraustegiari “ez” esan diote [Lasarte-Oriako] 1.000tik gora herritarrek Donostian
– Topatu “Gipuzkoa plaza hartu dute hainbat herritarrek, errauskailuari ezezkoa eman eta egungo politika ustela eraldatzeko
– Sustatu “Gipuzkoa plaza hartu dute Gipuzkoa Zutik plataformakoek”
– Gara-Naiz “Donostiako Gipuzkoa plazan erraustegiaren aurkako gunea antolatzen hasi dira“, “Exitosa cadena humana contra la incineradora en Donostia“, “La respuesta ciudadana contra la incineradora supera las expectativas“, “Con la incineración, de sabios es rectificar
– EITB “Miles de personas protestan contra la incineradora en Donostia“, “Pertsona ugarik Gipuzkoa Plazan eman dute gaua, erraustegiaren aurka

EU Bioenergy: Time to follow the Waste Hierarchy

Zero Waste Europe’s response to the public consultation on the EU’s post-2020 sustainable bioenergy policy.

Compost from separately collected foodwaste

Today, the Zero Waste Europe network and many other organisations around the world have called on the European Commission to use the Waste Hierarchy to guide the EU’s post-2020 sustainable bioenergy policy and phase out harmful subsidies that support energy from organic waste incineration. According to the Waste Hierarchy, biowaste should first beprevented , then fed to humans or animals, and finally used for composting or anaerobic digestion, as these are solutions that can deliver the greatest greenhouse gas emission reductions, as well as other co-benefits.

Click here to read our full submission to the Bioenergy Consultation.

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West, UK: We must stop investing in damaging incineration that runs counter to the idea of a circular economy and undermines a waste hierarchy which prioritises waste prevention, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion.

The main recommendations for a Sustainable Bioenergy Policy, included in Zero Waste Europe’s official response to the consultation are:

1. EU climate and energy policies should be aligned with the Waste Hierarchy embedded in the Circular Economy Package, respecting the priority for reduction or composting/Anaerobic Digestion, before incineration.

It is time for the EU Climate and Energy Policy to fully account for the contribution of the waste sector to a Low Carbon Economy, and foster appropriate alignment for the most climate-friendly options in the waste management sector, as described in the Waste Hierarchy. In particular the Sustainable Policy on Bioenergy should explicitly exclude Municipal Solid Waste as a source of sustainable energy.

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director: “We should all aim for 100% Renewable Energy, but none of it will do any favors to climate change mitigation if it ends up increasing deforestation, incineration, resource depletion and air pollution. Renewable should synonymous with clean and sustainable energy, and unfortunately right now it’s not the case”.

2. Harmful renewable energy subsidies to extract energy from residual waste should be phased out.

Extracting energy from residual waste is a net contributor to Green House Gas emissions inventories rather than a saver.3 These harmful subsidies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, this being an extremely counterproductive misalignment between two fundamental pillars of current EU policy. This is a fundamental mis-allocation of resources and they should be discontinued without delay.

3. EU Climate and Energy Policy should work towards valuing energy embedded in products and establishing an energy preservation paradigm rather than burning limited natural resources for the extraction of energy.

Energy policies for a low-carbon economy should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resources.

Organics Waste Hierarchy, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (2014)
Organics Waste Hierarchy, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (2014)

Antigone Dalamaga, Director of Ecological Recycling Society & President of RREUSE Network: “We must focus on implementing the upper levels of the Waste Hierarchy. Prevention, reuse, recycling and composting protects the environment and creates jobs. Incinerating organic waste is not an environmentally sustainable or economically viable option compared to the alternatives of composting and anaerobic digestion.”

In conclusion, the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive and the development of a Sustainable Policy on Bioenergy is an opportunity for Europe to become a leader in clean, sustainable and renewable energy, but it’s critical to ensure that these sources are clean, efficient and science-based.

Flore Berlingen, Director of Zero Waste France: “In France and across Europe, zero waste strategies that prioritize waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting are gaining momentum. The EU Sustainable Bioenergy Policy should follow the Waste Hierarchy and contribute to this positive trend, making sure that organic waste is used in the most climate-friendly way”.

Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting in Ljubljana

On Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd Ljubljana, the 2016 European Green Capital, and first Zero Waste European Capital, played host to municipal representatives, entrepreneurs, zero waste campaigners and experts as part of the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting.

Erick Oblak opening the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting Foto: Maša Kores
Erick Oblak opening the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting Photo: Maša Kores

The conference was opened by an introduction to the history of Ljubljana and the implementation of zero waste policies in the city, from Erika Oblak of Ekologi Brez Meja. From the early struggle against the construction of an incinerator and the subsequent referendum, with overwhelming opposition in 1999 to just a few years later, having the neighbouring town of Vrhnika already leading the way with recycling rates as high as 50% as early as 2003.

When in 2012 another incineration plan was proposed, Ekologi Brez Meja with Zero Waste Europe’s support, successfully countered the plan with a zero waste alternative, which has led Ljubljana to being the waste management success story that it is today.

This was followed by Zero Waste Europe, Director, Joan Marc Simon expressing how amazing it was that such significant progress had been made by the city in only 2 ½ years.

The first discussion panel focused on reusable nappies, featuring Elizabeta Zust, from a nursery in Vhrnika that only uses cloth nappies and Hilary Vick, from Nappy Ever After, a nappy laundry service in London. The panel also included Joan Crous from the Eta Beta/Lavanda cooperative in Bologna, Italy, where 1,100 to 1,800 nappies are washed and delivered every day.

The panel covered the environmental and social benefits of reusable nappies as well as technical and commercial difficulties and issues surrounding the issue. This provided highly informative, inspirational and technical discussion by the participants.

Tourism was the focus of the next panel discussion. With Nina Kosin from the Ljubljana Tourism Board opened with a focus on the significance of the Green Capital award for the city, as well as the introduction of reusable crockery at the Christmas market with a deposit scheme in place.

Antonio Esposito spoke about Conka Park, the first zero waste hotel in Sorrento, Italy. With a wide range of initiatives promoting zero waste in the hotel, they have found significant success, and positive reactions from the hotel guests.

The afternoon of the first day covered the topic of food waste. Involving food waste entrepreneur Joris Depouillon from the Food Waste Entrepreneur Network, Laura Chatel, from Zero Waste France, and Albin Keuc, from Food Waste Reduction a Slovenian initiative which has provided 16 DIY tools for food waste reduction.

The participants emphasised the importance of differentiating between ‘food waste’ and ‘food surplus’ with the larger portion remaining fit for human consumption, the highest level of the ‘food waste hierarchy’.

The second day was opened by Zero Waste Europe’s President, from Capannori, Italy – Rossano Ercolini. Before hearing speeches from Zoran Janković, the Mayor of Ljubljana, and Irena Majcen, the Slovenian Minister for the Environment and Spatial Planning, offering their insights on Ljubljana’s success as a environmental leader across Europe.

The keynote speaks for the day was from Paul Connett, internationally renowned campaigner on zero waste, with over 30 years of experience in working on incineration and waste issues. Dr. Connett used his time to speak on zero waste as stepping stone to sustainability. His speech presented an inspiring vision of citizen action for the creation of a world without waste, a sustainable future and a better planet.

Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores
Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores

This was followed by a discussion of policies on a local level, with Tihana Jelacic, from Prekom, the Croatian waste management company for Prelog and the surrounding municipalities, who have recently adopted a Zero Waste Strategy, and are working to implement zero waste policies and practices. Stojan Jakin, from Vrhnika, the first Zero Waste Town in Slovenia spoke about how ranking towns by the recycling rates can be misleading when towns like Vrhnika are reducing the amount of residual waste year-on-year despite a less dramatic increase in recycling rates.

Matteo Francesconi, the Deputy Mayor of Capanorri spoke about how Capannori was first launched on the road to zero waste by the anti-incineration fight led by Rossano Ercolini, and now has a holistic approach to waste, with a system that adapts to the local reality and, therefore, integrates local people at every level.

In the afternoon. Mitja Praznik, from Snaga, the waste management company in Ljubljana went into great detail and depth on exactly how Ljubljana has become the best performing capital in waste management in Europe

This was followed by Mariel Vilella, Associate Director of Zero Waste Europe explaining the immense impact which waste management has on climate change, and how current accounting methods downplay this impact. Emphasising that it is time that we harvested this ‘low-hanging-fruit’ when it comes to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

The full presentation by Mariel is available online, with visual slides making a strong case for ‘Zero Waste’ as ‘Climate Action!’. The route to moving towards this low-carbon economy through zero waste is detailed in Zero Waste Europe’s recent report, ‘The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy’. Mariel, made the strong and compelling case that cities are at the forefront of this effort to move away from carbon intensive waste management practices, with cities being uniquely positioned to implement effective and efficient policies.

David Franquesa, then took to the stage to present eReuse, an open source reuse platform for electronic waste, which can be used to dramatically extend the use life of electronic products, as well as ensuring the traceability of the items from reuse through to recycling.

The final speaker at the conference was from the ECO-PULPLAST project which works with the paper industry in Northern Italy to recycle pulper waste from the recycling of paper to make ‘eco-sustainable plastic pallets’. This project has significant support from key players in the paper recycling industry where it forms a major alternative to waste incineration and offers a way to reduce costs.

The conference incorporated a wide range of expertise and experience. With inspiring and informative talks from politicians, industry representatives, social entrepreneurs, activists, and innovator. The focus on local action towards zero waste presented a number of concrete actions which can be taken by different municipalities in following the path to zero waste.

European Investment Bank faces criticism over financing Cardiff incinerator

Charos Pix Creative Commons
Cardiff Viridor Incinerator – photo by: Charos Pix, some rights reserved

Matt Franklin, Communications & Programmes Officer

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has been heavily criticised for its role in the funding of an incinerator owned by Viridor in Cardiff. The bank is expected to finance the incinerator to the cost of £110 million in what the local group Cardiff Against the Incinerator (CATI) have called a ‘corrupt decision’ and a ‘disgrace’.

The incinerator which will burn 350,000 tonnes of waste annually, producing 70,000 tonnes of ash, has previously demonstrated poor levels of performance, with ‘plasticky’ smells being reported in homes 2-3km away from the facility. They have been forced to install magnetic equipment after failing to remove metals from the ash, and have been ‘forced to stop’ the processing of ash, due to the uncontrolled spread of toxic dust and pollution from the ash.


In a letter of complaint to the EIB, Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network refuted and criticised the EIB’s claim that the facility ‘reflects the strong environmental commitment of the Welsh government and local authorities’ responding:

“We are disappointed to read that the EIB is still supporting incineration projects. The EIB should be supporting the circular economy and removing waste from the residual stream, not perpetuating outdated technologies that result in the lock-in of valuable resources into the bottom tiers of the waste hierarchy.”

As the new Circular Economy package is adopted by the European Commission, it is a timely reminder that we need to be moving our waste management processes up the waste hierarchy and focussing on keeping our material resources in use through reducing consumption and conserving materials, and reusing and recycling product waste rather than burning resources and producing toxic by-products.

The EIB’s response to Shlomo Dowen’s complaint demonstrates their continued perpetuation of the industry myths around waste incineration. The EIB claims that ‘this facility will allow vital renewable energy to be recovered’ a myth that Mike Brown, Managing Director of Eunomia has called ‘dangerous’ and ‘needs to be stamped out before yet more public money is spent on incinerators’.

The EIB’s support for incineration, and the subsequent landfilling of toxic ash is not a new phenomenon and has been highly criticised by a wide range of sources. In 2008 EEC Bankwatch released a report ‘Fuelling the Fire’ blaming the EIB for undermining efforts by decision-makers to develop ‘further waste prevention, reuse and recycling policies’ in contrast to EU policy which supposedly ‘privileges prevention, reuse and recycling instead of incineration’, and has led the financial support of dozens of incineration based waste projects over the past 15 years.

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of UKWIN
Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator for UKWIN

The EIB’s support for incineration not only ignores the waste hierarchy and the need to put the EU’s investments in line with the EU objectives and in compliance with EU law, but also ignores that the UK over-uses incineration as waste treatment. An analysis of British statistics on municipal waste management in the last 10 years corroborates that. Despite incineration remains at the bottom of waste hierarchy, it has increased spectacularly in the UK in the recent years, from 8% in 2005 to 27% in 2014, according to Eurostat figures. And while it is true that landfilling has decreased, figures show that by every 100 kilos of Municipal Waste diverted from landfilling between 2005 and 2014, 51 went to incineration and 49 to recycling.

If we are to truly move towards a zero waste society, and take waste management up the waste hierarchy and into the realms of prevention and reuse, it is essential to stop financing false solutions, and it is even more essential that public investments, which are limited are allocated for those projects making a transition towards a circular economy happen.



#EUBioenergy consultation: time to see the trees for the forest

Compost from separately collected foodwaste
Compost from separately collected foodwaste

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director / Climate, Energy & Air Pollution Programme

Today, most of the renewable energy produced in Europe is bioenergy, not without a great deal of controversy and debate.

Bioenergy, mostly coming from burning agricultural waste, forestry, and also the organic fraction of municipal solid waste or ‘urban biomass’, has been deemed a ‘false solution’ by many NGOs, high-level scientists and impacted local communities. Now that the European Commission is set to review the legislation around renewable energy and it has launched an open consultation on the issue of bioenergy, it’s time to see the trees for the forest.


Bioenergy from ‘urban biomass’

Urban biomass is a common term to refer to all the food waste from restaurants, households, farmers’ markets, plus the garden waste, textiles, clothing, paper, or anything of organic origin within municipal solid waste. We call it ‘urban biomass’, given its urban origin in comparison to the agricultural, forestry or industrial origin of other kinds of biomass.

Ideally, a municipality committed to a zero waste strategy would sooner or later organise the separation and collection of this organic waste at the source, enabling for this extremely rich resource to be turned into compost (and returned to the soils as fertiliser), or to biogas, via anaerobic digestion, both of which are fundamental technologies that are required to play a key part in our low-carbon future.

However, as shocking as it may sound, most municipalities in the EU today are still mixing all of this organic waste, urban biomass, with the residual waste going to landfill and incineration, creating quite a big mess.

Organic waste going into landfills is responsible for generating methane – a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72-times greater than CO2 over a 20 year period, and for contaminating the soils and ground-water with leachate. Similarly, organic waste going to incinerators to produce energy (along with all kinds of fossil fuel derived plastic products) is an equal waste of resources – worse yet, this is misleadingly considered “renewable energy”.


Renewable energy from burning ‘urban biomass’?

Urban biomass like food waste, paper or textiles are a human product, i.e. it would not exist without our intervention. Moreover, it is very often the result of unsustainable modes of industrial or agricultural production, so considering it a ‘renewable’ source is definitely a challenging concept. Of course one could argue that food will continue to be produced as long as our civilization exists, but that does not make it an infinite resource, in the way that wind, solar or geothermal energy could be.

Urban foodwaste
Urban foodwaste

Leading experts in the field have argued this point in detail, but major EU institutions and policy-makers still have to catch up.

Precisely, one of the major pitfalls of the current EU Renewable Energy Directive is the consideration of this ‘urban biomass’ amongst the renewable energy sources, which allows incinerators, biomass plants or any other energy plant using biomass as a fuel, to receive financial incentives for doing so.

In this way, subsidies that should be committed to clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energies are being misused in the most inefficient way by supporting the burning resources that should be composted, recycled, reused or just never wasted in the first place. Today, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, as they continue to finance and green-wash the building of waste-burning facilities all over Europe.


Not renewable, and also not carbon-neutral

The big mess caused by considering biomass waste a renewable energy source gets even worse with the further misleading idea that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning biomass can be considered to be zero, or carbon-neutral.

This concept originates in the idea that the GHG emissions related to cutting a tree, for example, will be compensated with another planted tree, creating a net balance in the carbon cycle of the atmosphere. Those promoting large-scale biomass energy believe that even if you would cut these trees and burn them, GHG emissions would be compensated overtime with the appropriate forestry policies, and therefore be, carbon-neutral.

That may make sense in the abstract world – and indeed sustainable forestry practices that allow for the appropriate supply of trees are extremely important, but being by being realistic, it’s easy to see the flaws of the concept. Using biomass for fuel can eventually be sustainable with the appropriate practices on a small-scale, but it’s just not going to be carbon-neutral.

Firstly, the very activity of burning biomass produces GHG emissions, regardless of whether you plant a tree or 200, in the next day or in the next year. Those emissions are unique and additional, and it’s time that that they are recognised and accounted for as such.

Eunomia’s report for Zero Waste Europe

As Eunomia put it in our latest report: “It is a mistake to assume that CO2 from non-fossil sources does not mater. The argument that CO2 from such sources is all short-cycle, and so, it can be ignored, is tantamount to assume a separation in the pools of carbon dioxide from fossil and non-fossil sources. It is as though the argument runs that the climate only changes if emissions come from fossil sources. This is so obviously wrong that it seems genuinely surprising that this argument could ever have been considered acceptable: (…) the only correct way to process is to account for emissions of all greenhouse gases since they will all have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin”.

Secondly, how does the carbon-neutral reasoning apply to ‘urban biomass’? It is stretching a concept far beyond what could be justified to assume that GHG emissions from burning food waste, paper and textiles can be ‘compensated over time’ and therefore could be counted as zero. And yet, this is what incinerators, biomass or even cement plants will argue and apply in their accounting methodologies: the ‘urban biomass’ they burn is carbon-neutral and a key climate mitigation strategy for the sector!

Thirdly, the burning of urban biomass it’s in fact a very inefficient and polluting source of energy, generating even more GHG emissions per unit of electricity than coal. Even if paper and textiles can burn reasonably well, food waste is 70% water, which makes it a rather inadequate fuel. So, burning biomass of any kind is not only not carbon-neutral, it’s in fact more carbon-intensive than coal and responsible for a great deal of air pollution, as it’s been pointed out in both this and that report.

It must be noted that the IPCC guidelines to account the GHG emissions from biomass energy in national inventories do require to report these emissions but only as an information item, mostly for methodological reasons. This is an unfortunate solution to a methodological problem, as these emissions then tend to go under-reported and are generally underestimated. Still, the IPCC remains ultimately clear on the carbon-neutrality of bioenergy and responds: “the IPCC approach of not including these emissions in the Energy Sector total should not be interpreted as a conclusion about the sustainability or carbon neutrality of bioenergy.”


Impacts of harmful subsidies and accounting errors

In practice, accounting errors related to GHG emissions feed and maintain the misuse of public funds that should be supporting low-carbon solution pathways and that are instead supporting carbon-intensive, wasteful and polluting technologies.

The cement industry, one of the most carbon-intensive sectors, has especially benefited from this accounting error. In Europe, where the cement industry is obliged to meet emissions reduction targets through the EU ETS, an increasingly high number of cement plants are burning municipal solid waste on the false grounds that it’s mostly carbon-neutral. This allows the industry to under-report their total emissions to the atmosphere and further game the already dysfunctional EU carbon trading system.

Ultimately, at the EU policy level, the contradiction is obvious. While the Circular Economy Package is all about resource-efficiency and material recovery, the renewable energy subsidies end up being perverse economic incentives and a fundamental misallocation of resources.


The right solutions at the right scale

As previously mentioned, urban biomass is a rich resource that can be composted or treated in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas. Paper can be recycled, textiles can be reused, and all measures to prevent these products from entering our bins will be infinitely more sustainable than burning them to extract what little and polluting energy we can get from them. Not in vain does the waste hierarchy suggests that wastes should only be combusted once the potential for reuse and recycling has been fully explored.

When it comes to using forestry or agricultural biomass for energy purposes, the matter of scale is critical. The use of agricultural or forestry biomass for energy purposes can be sustainable at small-scale and in fact, communities around the world depend on it for everyday heating and cooking.

However, in a world with increasing pressure on land, food, and forests, large scale industrial biomass energy should be questioned and avoided, along with their corresponding renewable energy subsidies. Not only there is increasing evidence of deforestation related to this practice, the large amount of biomass needed to operate an industrial plant may require additional fuel, which will often be Refuse-derived Fuel – mixed waste, including plastics and all kinds of residual waste. This dramatically increases the toxic mix of emissions and prevents the proper management of this waste.

At the end of the day, energy policies for a low-carbon economy, should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resources.

Anaerobic Digester
An anaerobic digester outside Sofia, Bulgaria

Final words for EU policy makers

Europe should become a leader in renewable energy and develop a long-term, secure, sustainable and competitive energy system, as outlined in the EU Energy Union Framework Strategy. For this, increasing the share of renewable energy sources it’s as important as ensuring that these sources are clean, efficient and science-based.

Whether the final share of RE for 2030 is 27% or higher, none of it will do any favours for climate change mitigation if it ends up increasing deforestation, resource depletion and air pollution.


European Commission keeps wasting energy on “waste-to-energy”


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 waste only non-recyclable materials and the solution to them isn’t burning, but re-design to make them fit into the circular economy.

Secondly, this road-map especially worrying because it ignores the role of civil society and local governments, as the Commission aims at consulting only Member States’ regulators, “waste-to-energy” plant operators, RDF producers, the recycling industry and other waste burning industries (chiefly cement kilns). Neither municipalities, nor NGOs are included in the list, despite the fact that waste incineration remains highly contested from NGOs to local neighbourhood associations and resident groups, citing a wide range of concerns from health and environmental issues to financial problems.

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

Finally, granting so called “waste-to-energy” a role of within the Energy Union, is everything but doing a favour for the climate, since “waste-to-energy” is one of the most polluting, expensive, and inefficient forms of energy production available today. Burning waste will not contribute to secure energy supply, nor to the promotion of clean renewable energy to secure the reduction of our carbon footprint and the mitigation of climate change

Unfortunately this isn’t a systemic change, just more of the same.


Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy Conference

The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy Conference
The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy Conference

On January 12 2016, Zero Waste Europe, ACR+, and Zero Waste France held a conference; ‘The Potential of the Waste Sector to a Low Carbon Economy at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels, Belgium.

The conference focussed on the recently released report ‘Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy‘ conducted by Eunomia, and commissioned by Zero Waste Europe in partnership with ACR+ and Zero Waste France, the report highlighted how the carbon emissions relating to waste management have been consistently underestimated due to the way in which the emissions are indexed.

The event was opened by a speech from Céline Fremault, the Brussels Capital Region Minister for Environment and Energy. Dominic Hogg, Chairman of Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd then presented the key findings of the report.

Mariel Vilella, Associate Director and Climate Policy Programme Officer from Zero Waste Europe put the report in context following the December COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. Stating “the Paris Agreement is an opportunity to increase our ambition for climate action and the EU must take leadership”.

Philippe Micheaux Naudet of ACR+ spoke of the importance of a circular economy to the creation of a low carbon society in Europe.

Filipe Carneiro from LIPOR, the Intermunicipal Waste Management Agency of Greater Porto explained the model of the organisation which operates across 8 municipalities in Portugal and works towards the reduction of carbon emissions, avoiding the emission 248,865t CO2e over the last 8 years.

Cedric Chevalier from the Brussels Environment, Waste Department the importance of a circular economy to the creation of a low carbon society in Europe.



Paris Ivry incinerator opposed in shadow of COP21

anti-incineration activists gather in-front of Ivry Incinerator
Anti-incineration campaigners in front of Ivry Incinerator, Paris

On Wednesday 9 December, members of the GAIA (Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives), Collectif 3R, Zero Waste France, and Zero Waste Europe, gathered outside the Ivry Incinerator in Paris to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the project. Carrying giant inflatable lungs, a ‘red line’ was put forward on the Victor Hugo Bridge in Ivry, Paris.

The agency responsible for waste management in Paris, Syctom has put forward plans for redevelopment of the incinerator at a cost of €2 billion which would lock the city of Paris into a 23 year contract of burning waste, effectively presenting an obstacle to zero waste solutions, such as reductions in waste production and significant increases in recycling rates in Paris.

Mariel Vilella, Associate Director & Climate Policy Campaigner for Zero Waste Europe said: “Zero Waste Europe’s latest climate report demonstrates that Incineration contributes to climate change rather than stopping it. Moreover, the redevelopment of the Ivry Incinerator with such a long contract ill be a challenge to creating the zero waste solutions which are required for the future.”

"Make Love Not Waste" - Zero Waste Placard

The redevelopment plan of Syctom has been challenged by Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France in their ‘Plan B’OM’ which lays out how to move towards a zero waste future at a far lower cost of only €200 million.

Anne Connan from Collectif 3R said: “This action comes only 2 days after GAIA members publically challenged Syctom officials on their ‘greenwashing’ of the incineration industry at a COP21 side event at Le Bourget, Paris. We need real alternatives to incineration, which promote recycling, reuse and waste reduction” you can read more about this action in our blog released during the COP21 climate summit.

The challenge to the promotion of bioplastics developed from Carbon Capture Systems, resulted in a significant proportion of the audience walking-out of the event.

The case of the Ivry Incinerator in Paris was recently featured in Zero Waste Europe’s report “Air Pollution from Incineration from Waste Dispoal: Not for Public Breath” which identified 5 cases of polluting incinerators across Europe which have all faced active opposition.

Tackling Incineration: Greenwashing At COP21

Members of Zero Waste Europe and the GAIA global network confronted incineration advocates today in the ‘Climate Generations Areas’ of the COP21 summit. The event was organised by Syctom, the agency in charge of waste management in Paris area, including the Ivry Incinerator redevelopment in Paris, which is actively opposed by local community group Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France.

Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France have created their own alternative plan, to Syctom’s €2 billion redevelopment plan, which would lock the city of Paris into 23 years of mass waste incineration, effectively preventing waste reduction

Zero waste activists confronting industry greenwashers
Zero waste activists confronting industry greenwashers

plans and higher recycling rates. The alternative, ‘Plan B’OM‘ sets out a pathway to a zero waste future free from incineration.

The case of the Ivry Incinerator in Paris was recently featured in Zero Waste Europe’s report “Air Pollution from Incineration from Waste Dispoal: Not for Public Breath” which identified 5 cases of polluting incinerators across Europe which have all faced active opposition.

The side event at the Climate Generations Areas originally planned to showcase “bioplastics” from incinerator carbon capture systems, resulted in a significant part of the audience ‘walking-out’ in opposition to their attempted greenwashing of incineration. After the third speaker, a member of the audience stood up and spoke out in French against the presentation of incineration as green technology, calling for anyone who agreed to join them in walking-out.

A large proportion of the audience proceeded to leave the event, criticising the panel for their misrepresentation of incineration technologies. The group then gathered outside the event talking about alternatives to incineration, and zero waste strategies. As the panel finally left the event there was a call for an end to incineration and an anti-incineration song was sung.