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
In 2014, for the city of Treviso, Italy, the public company Contarina’s operational cost were contained and 26 new jobs were created. 5
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
 Mixed waste (residual waste) is mainly composed of food and kitchen waste, plastics, and paper.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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”.
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). 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.
[…] 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.
Therefore the undersigned organizations call the Central and Eastern European governments as well as European institutions such as the European Investment Bank 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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
Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, US
groundWork, South Africa
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
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
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.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
Alliance for Zero Waste Indonesia
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
groundWork, South Africa
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Piernicola PEDICINI MEP, EFDD:
“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.
BasEICKHOUT MEP, GREENS/EFA:
“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”.
Dario TAMBURRANO MEP, EFDD:
“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.”
Jean LAMBERT, GREENS/EFA MEP:
“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.”
Molly SCOTT CATO, GREENS/EFA MEP, 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.”
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. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. “
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”
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
Ferran Rosa, Policy Officer
In December 2015, the European Commission launched the Circular Economy Package, which aims to bring a major shift in waste management, product and process design policies and consumption patterns that minimize the landfill and incineration of waste. Less than two months after, on Thursday February 4, the European Commission presented the Roadmap for the Communication on Waste to Energy, which sets the scope and terms for the Communication on waste-to-energy that will be published later on in 2016. As we read through it, this roadmap is a worrying step on four counts.
Firstly, the European Commission refers in this roadmap to non-recyclable waste as the perfect feed for an incinerator. However, no definition of non-recyclable waste can be found in the Waste Framework Directive or in the new proposal. The Commission mixes up non-recyclable waste with mixed waste, and while it’s true that mixed waste can’t be easily recycled, these are two different things.
While mixed waste is a problem of separate collection; non-recyclable waste is mostly a problem of product design. If properly separated, there’s no non-recyclable wasteonly non-recyclable materials and the solution to them isn’t burning, but re-design to make them fit into the circular economy.
Moreover, it is worrying because it doesn’t include a clear roadmap on how to tackle existing over-capacities and, actually pushes for more inflexible facilities requiring long-time investment, such as district heating. It ignores that in a circular economy, disposal facilities should instead be flexible, allowing waste managers to adapt progressively to higher recycling rates and lower levels of waste production. Linking houses’ heating system to residual waste generation through very expensive long-term facilities isn’t the best incentive to promote reduction, reuse and recycling
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.”
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
plans and higher recycling rates. The alternative, ‘Plan B’OM‘ sets out a pathway to a zero waste future free from incineration.
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.
A new report released today by Zero Waste Europe has found that waste incineration activities, both in incineration facilities and cement plantsacross Europe, have had serious breaches of emission limits and have experienced other significant technical and legal problems. Across 5 case studies a number of environmental, procedural and technical issues faced by waste incinerators are exposed.
The report, elaborated by consultancy group ENT, investigates 5 cases around air pollution limit breaches in incineration facilities; the Lafarge cement plant in Montcada I Reixac (Barcelona, Spain), Lafarge cement plant in Trbovlje (Slovenia), Ivry waste incinerator in Paris (France), Dargavel waste incinerator (Scotland, UK), and incinerators of Bavaria, Germany.
The report highlights that the emission limits of hazardous air pollutants as designated by the EU Air Quality Directives (AQDs) are significantly higher than recommended safety limits by the World Health Organization (WHO), creating a significant amount of uncertainty and potential safety risks for both the environment and public health. Moreover, the reliance on the principle for “best available techniques” (BAT) favours far higher emission limits than are deemed environmentally and epidemiologically safe by the WHO. Furthermore, the monitoring of air pollution in waste incineration activities are handled by the same facilities, and are therefore not subject to independent monitoring practices.
In the case of the Lafarge Montcada I Reixach cement plant, there is a long history of popular opposition to the plant, with protests taking place in 1975, however more recently in 2006 a petition gained 6,000 signatures opposing a plan to use sludge, bone and meat meal, and plastics as fuel. This opposition delayed the permit for the plant, but it was subsequently granted in 2008. However this began a long series of legal and procedural challenges to the permit, which continues to take place up until the current day.
Further cases such as Dargavel, and the incinerators in Bavaria highlight the instances where the legally defined limits are exceeded. Having potentially hazardous effects on human health and the environment. The case of the cement plant in Trbovlje, Slovenia, has been on the national and European spotlight in the last years, given the complaints from local communities for toxic emissions, odours, and lack of environmental permits.
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director said: “How many air pollution incidents do people need to put up with before policy-makers realise that burning waste is not the way forward? Recycling and composting create livelihoods, save money, and protect the environment and public health, while the incineration of waste just keep us away from a truly sustainable Circular Economy.”
The report adds further support to the call for an end to the incineration of waste, as practice which continues to exacerbate climate change and creates damaging and hazardous environmental pollution. Instead Zero Waste Europe calls for the implementation of zero waste policies that prioritize the higher options of the Waste Hierarchy, such as waste prevention, reuse and recycling, including redesign and the implementation of improved Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, where producers are mandated to work to eliminate their product waste.
The report has been launched in Barcelona, as a start to the International Meeting of Key Struggles around Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns, This meeting is a follow up from the previous European Gathering that took place in 2014 in Barletta, Italy, and builds up the efforts of the Spanish Network against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns that has been active for the last 6 years.
Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid is successfully paving the way for Zero Waste Municipalities in the area of Madrid, in Spain.
Since this summer, thanks to the progressive political turn in many municipalities in the area, the network has been able to ally with alternative political parties and pass a motion in at least 4 municipalities calling for zero waste. Moreover, the network has been able to create and develop working groups for the implementation of Zero Waste in various municipalities, as an alternative to the waste management model of municipal waste.
The four municipalities that have already approved the motion are Loeches, Mejorada del Campo, Torres de la Alameda and Velilla de San Antonio. All of them are small municipalities no more than 44km2 and with no more than 23,000 inhabitants. However, they have a lot of environmental problems such as plants for the treatment of sludge from toxic materials, wastewater treatment, the deposit of industrial and dangerous waste, illegal landfills, incinerators and cement kilns burning waste.
The approval of the motion brings positive news and hope to the current waste management situation in Madrid. It is a presents a step in the right direction on the way to a Zero Waste reality.
The motion in detail
The motion recognises the urgent need to stop relying on false solutions, such as lanfills and incinerators. This model effects the environment and the health of the people of neighbouring and nearby municipalities. We therefore need a paradigm shift, and in the motion we ask for:
The creation of a working committee to implement a zero waste model with the participation of local political and civil society groups.
The council to be formally required to create a ‘regional waste strategy 2016-2026’ for the City of Madrid. This would replace the current and outdated strategy and set the objective of ‘Zero Waste’ waste management in our region..
An awareness raising campaign should be carried out with citizens participation, where people are informed about the current waste management practice, its impacts, the alternatives, and benefits involved such alternatives.
The municipal waste collection should be evaluated and be run by the municipality and not by external companies. This would include:
A study of current and future costs of waste management if it were to be run by the municipality should be conducted. This study should assess its viability and implementation.
A review of current waste management contracts and whether they can be modified, to allow a gradual implementation of a zero waste selective collection project.
Control and monitoring of the current waste collection to ensure that contracts are enforced, so we would able to confirm that they are not mixing municipal waste and other types of waste (packaging) etc. in its collection.
‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’
This Zero Waste Europe member is a network of neighborhood associations, environmental groups, Popular assemblies of 15M, collectives of organic gardens, organisations formed to fight facilities and harmful waste plans, “No Macro-Landfill, Yes Zero Waste” campaign, representatives of political groups and individual zero waste campaigners. Their common goal is the fight against the creation of hazardous waste, against harmful waste facilities and planned facilities primarily located in the Eastern region of Madrid.
Over the years this network has been a focal point of resistance to environmental damage in the area. It works to submit refutations to waste projects, environmental damage reports, conducting lobbying and organising trainings, rallies and demonstrations aiming to show the popular opposition against these projects.
While challenging these facilities, the network has developed, and now promotes an alternative Zero Waste policy to the current waste treatment plans. This should be implemented in all municipalities of the City of Madrid. In this way, Zero Waste Madrid also wants to reach the institutions through the current ‘popular unity’ candidates who are much more open to this project through motions in the municipalities where they are in office.
In conclusion, thanks for the wonderful work of ‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’, zero waste is really happening in Madrid!
The report was commissioned by Zero Waste Europe, in partnership with Zero Waste France and ACR+. The report finds that the role of waste prevention and improved waste management can play in reducing GHG emissions and the development of a low carbon economy has previously been significantly understated, partly due to the structure of the national inventories of the UNFCCC.
The report further provides an accurate examination of the true impact of waste management on climate change and carbon emissions. It confirms that actions at the top of the waste hierarchy – including waste prevention initiatives, reuse and recycling – have considerable scope to reduce climate change emissions.
As the report states “A climate friendly strategy, as regards materials and waste, will be one in which materials are continually cycling through the economy, and where the leakage of materials into residual waste treatments is minimised”. For example, recycling 1 tonne of plastic packaging can be a saving of 500 kg CO2 eq, whereas using one tonne less plastic packaging results in avoiding 6 times more emissions (3 tonnes CO2 eq).
In the report 11 key recommendations are made, calling for waste policies to be redesigned in order to prioritise the higher level options of the ‘Waste Hierarchy’ (waste prevention, reuse and recycling) and immediately reallocate climate finance subsidies which are currently supporting energy generation from waste. These recommendations put a strong focus on correcting methodological issues that are currently preventing Member states and the European union from implementing waste policies that are efficient in terms of GHG emissions.
The report shows that in the decarbonising economy required to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, technologies such as incineration will become less attractive options and ultimately present an obstacle to a low carbon economy.
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director said “For far too long the climate impact of waste management has been overlooked. Now it’s clear that waste prevention, reuse and recycling are climate change solutions that need to be fully integrated into a low carbon economy. Both at the EU and international level, it is time to shift climate finance support to these climate-friendly options instead of waste incineration, which in fact contributes to climate change and displaces livelihoods of recyclers worldwide.”
Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste France’s Advocacy Officer,said: “With France hosting the COP21 in December, it is a real opportunity to raise decision makers’ awareness about the real impact of waste management on climate change and the extent to which Zero Waste strategies have to be put on the agenda of solutions to climate mitigation supported by the French government.”
Françoise Bonnet, Secretary general of ACR+ said: “Efficiency and smart waste management is key for a low carbon economy. Still, it is only the tip of the iceberg as a much bigger impact can be achieved through resource efficiency and adopting a life-cycle perspective”.
Zero Waste Europe – 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. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
Zero Waste France – Zero Waste France (formerly Cniid – Centre national d’information indépendante sur les déchets) was founded in 1997. As an independently funded NGO and a member of Zero Waste Europe, it has been advocating for waste reduction since then, talking to local and national public officials as well as citizens groups or businesses. In 2014 the organization changed its name to Zero Waste France to emphasize its ambition but also the links with the other groups involved in this issue worldwide. Zero Waste France works closely with local stakeholders – among them its 2,000 members (individuals and groups) to encourage and implement Zero Waste strategies at the local level. www.zerowastefrance.org
ACR+ – The Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and sustainable Resource management (ACR+) is an international network promoting sustainable resource management through prevention at source, reuse and recycling. Through its activities, ACR+ strives to develop the expertise and skills of public authorities in effective waste-product-resource policies. Building on a 20 year experience, ACR+ launched in November 2014, the Circular Europe Network, a multi-stakeholder platform aiming at supporting local and regional authorities in adopting aspiring circular economy strategies. www.acrplus.org
Between the 4th and the 9th of October a team of Zero Waste experts toured the Italian peninsula prior to attending the World Resources Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The “Zero Waste Dream Team” was composed of leading experts in the field of Zero Waste and circular flows of resources.
The “Zero Waste Dream Team”:
Captain Charles Moore, Scientist and discoverer of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”
Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of environmental chemistry, international proponent of the ’10 steps to Zero Waste’ strategy
Rick Anthony, President of Zero Waste International Alliance
Ruth Abbe, President of Zero Waste USA
Tom Wright, Packaging expert and founder of Responsible-Packaging.org
Rossano Ercolini, President of Zero Waste Europe
Enzo Favoino, Chair of Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee
This panel offered a unique possibility for the exchange of ideas and sharing of best practices between European Zero Waste efforts and the pioneering efforts taking place in the USA stemming from the state of California, which have now spread across the country all the way to New York City.
The Italian “Zero Waste Dream Team Tour” included talks in a number of different cities across Italy, many of which having particular significance for the issue of zero waste.
In Parma, the administration of the city have taken on a ‘zero waste strategy’ which includes curbside collection, resulting in reduced residual waste effectively reducing the available fuel for the IREN waste-to-energy incinerator.
The tour also visited Turin, Vercelli and Rome, before ending in Capannori, the first municipality to adhere to a Zero Waste policy in Europe. Discussions took place in front of lively crowds of students, volunteer organizations, environmental associations, local members of council and actively engaged citizens.
Key messages from the panel included the importance for community responsibility to meet industrial responsibility, allowing for the convergence of both downstream recovery and prevention further upstream. The panel emphasized the characteristic value of the Zero Waste movement as “a politics of yes”, which requires collaboration between local politicians and local activists against incineration and in favour of prevention, re-use, recycling and ultimately re-design.
The audience was able to see how Zero Waste concepts are intricately tied with the notion of the circular economy, advocated for at the European and international level. This emphasised how Zero Waste seeks to emulate nature through cradle to cradle resource flows, and in so doing minimizing environmental impact through a “no burn, no bury, no toxins” policy.
The panel emphasized how Zero Waste does not require technologically complex machines, but better organization, education and industrial design. While the responsibility of industrial designers was called upon to design products for circular resource flows, the key message for the public revolved around the importance of individuals separating materials at source. The Zero Waste Dream Team reiterated throughout their tour how reaching Zero Waste requires only the existing forms of technology, and using our brains and hands in segregating materials. Panellists emphasized how more so than physical infrastructure for Zero Waste, social infrastructure is vital in bringing about culture and behaviour change in the development of new habits.
In this respect, the footage and relics shared by Captain Charles Moore from his many journeys to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre offered unequivocal evidence of the global impact of waste. His presentation particularly highlighted the importance of the simple gesture of disposing of plastic waste.
“I come to you as an ambassador of an area which has no constituents. I am in a state of desperation. All I can do is measure it and tell you the amount. Represent it. As a scientist I am looking for a political movement that can make something happen. The only political movement I can find to ally myself with is the Zero Waste movement.”
– Captain Charles Moore
Throughout the tour the resonating message has been one of hope yet urgency. There is no “away” to throw our rubbish, no end of life and because there is no end of life there is a next life. Zero Waste is ultimately not the end. It is the beginning. The beginning of the ‘politics of yes’. The question the Zero Waste Dream Team will be taking to Davos at the World Resources Forum will be the same as that of their Italian tour:
“if you’re not for Zero Waste how much waste are you for?”.
The summer of 2015 has seen an incredible amount of activity by campaigners fighting proposed incinerators in the UK. With a long list of successes, as well as active and ongoing campaigns, opposition to incineration seems important as ever.
In light of these struggles Mariel Vilella (Associate Director) and Matt Franklin (Communications & Programme Officer) from Zero Waste Europe attended the Earth First! Gathering in the Peak District to hold a workshop on incineration and UK campaigns.
During the workshop, they were joined by a member of Glouscester Vale Against Incineration (GlosVAIN) looked at some of the core issues and hazards of waste incineration, and the myth of renewable ‘waste-to-energy’ incineration, before taking a closer look at some of the most active successful and interesting campaigns to fight the construction of new incinerators in the UK.
Incinerator struggles in the UK
In our workshop they did not cover all of the anti-incineration campaigns and successes in the UK, but instead to give just a glimpse at the broad range of ongoing campaigns. The UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has information on many more struggles on their website.
On the 27th of July, campaigners in Swancombe, Kent had an unexpected success when Teal Energy who had proposed a 250,000 tonne per year incinerator suddenly withdrew their application right in the middle of a planning inquiry. The victory came after Teal Energy had seen the land which they had planned to build their incinerator on being purchased by the company behind the proposed London Paramount theme park, to prevent any potential impact upon their planned resort. This seemingly unlikely confluence of interests has now forced the ‘waste-to-energy’ company to seek an alternative site for their project.
In Gloucestershire, campaigners from the GlosVAIN group held a massive demonstration with hundreds of participants in Stroud, calling for plans to build a £500 million incinerator to be scraped. The plan which saw contracts being signed with the council before planning permission was granted, meant that if the council refused to grant planning permission the cost would have been between £60 and £100 million. Unfortunately despite the popular opposition to the plans they were approved and the construction by Urbaser Balfour Beatty is expected to begin soon.
In Derby recent research by anti-incineration campaigner Simon Bacon, has revealed that Derby City Council have paid more than £725,000 to fight their own decision! In Documents published by Simon, we can see that Derby City Council, in a contract with developer Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS), agreed to pay appeal costs above an agreed “appeal contingency” cost, which turned out be £0.00. Meaning that the council had to pay the full costs of RRS’s appeal, which came to £725,943, whilst only paying £112,255 to defend their decision.
Combining the stories of dozens of local and regional groups, this study demonstrates the importance of learning from successful examples of climate finance in looking ahead into the future. With the creation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created to help transform developing country economies by supporting high quality investments in clean energy and climate resilience, it is essential that future projects are able to learn from a critical assessment of previous climate finance projects.
Previously concerns have been raised around the lack of criteria for the GCF investments. Earlier this year, civil society organisations demanded the GCF approve an exclusion list to ensure that none of this climate investments will end up financing dirty energy sources. In this regard, GAIA and Zero Waste Europe have been actively campaigning against the financing of incinerators by the GCF, Mariel Vilella, Associate Director of Zero Waste Europe said “Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the shrinking pool of public money, the health risks of incineration, and the availability of sound alternatives, waste-to-energy would be a bad investment for the Green Climate Fund”.
The new study consists of 22 examples of successful climate related projects, programs and policies, across three continents; Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The examples were identified by organisations from the Global South and North and follow a comprehensive list of overarching characteristics: all of them are deeply rooted in the local communities, are inclusive and encourage the participation of affected communities; recognize and respect people’s rights, with special attention on gender and relationships/partnerships building; and most importantly, all of them are fully grant-funded, which allowed for flexibility, experimentation and innovation. (See the full list)
One of the case studies featured in report, under the category of ‘mitigation’ is that of the Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) cooperative. Based in Pune, India the cooperative is ‘an autonomous social enterprise that provides front-end waste management services’, over 80% of SWaCH members are women from marginalised castes, and as a result of the cooperative worker-members can earn up to three times their previous daily income.
It is further estimated that the SWaCH program saves the city an estimated $2.8 million per year in waste collection and disposal costs, and is responsible for preventing 640,000 tons of greenhouse gasses annually. The story and success of the SWaCH workers has been well documented, and more details can be found in the GAIA report on Successes and Lessons from Around the World
The case ofthe Zero Waste Program at Bir Hospital in Nepal, with no external funding the hospital managed to successfully reduce dioxin emissions associated with medical waste incineration by 90%, whilst increasing the percentage of the total waste stream which is recycled to over 50% , a move which is responsible for supporting hundreds of recycling jobs.
Such incredible achievements were possible through sustained efforts and initiatives from vermicomposting to the redesign of thermometers and other medical technology to use non-mercury alternatives, with the support of the Health Care Foundation and international allies such as Health Care Without Harm. This project carried out with zero budget, demonstrates the huge potential for a GCF funded program which would have the capacity to improve waste management across hundreds of hospitals in the region.
The success of the waste workers of Pune, and Nepal, on comparatively tiny budgets make it clear that the GCF should be doing more to expand and develop such programs and that truly effective climate finance projects include a wide range of factors, which are deeply rooted in affected communities. Only with these lessons of past successes can we hope to make progress towards a strong and effective climate finance model which is equitable for everyone involved.
In an important move, the White House released a Statement of Policy on the 23rd June, taking a strong stance against and vetoing the reclassification of all biomass power production as inherently “carbon-neutral”, a move which would have increased the attractiveness of biomass incineration across the US and the globe.
The White House took a strong position on the topic saying:
“The Administration objects to the bill’s representation of forest biomass as categorically “carbon-neutral.” This language conflicts with existing EPA policies on biogenic CO2and interferes with the position of States that do not apply the same policies to forest biomass as other renewable fuels like solar or wind. This language stands in contradiction to a wide-ranging consensus on policies and best available science from EPA’s own independent Science Advisory Board, numerous technical studies, many States, and various other stakeholders.”
There is strong evidence to counter the claims that biomass is carbon-neutral. It is widely accepted by scientists that logging for bioenergy creates a ‘carbon debt’. A report by Biofuelwatch presents evidence showing that electricity generated from wood biomass can result in ‘higher carbon emissions than an equivalent amount of electricity from coal’, and contributes to deforestation of ancient forests. When it is essential that we immediately reduce our green house gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, this ‘carbon debt’ is too high a price to pay.
“Biomass proponents argue that the CO2 is reabsorbed as the harvested forest regrows, but aside from being highly uncertain, the regrowth process takes many decades — during which time the additional CO2 emissions causes additional warming,” said Jonathan Lewis in an analysis published by The Energy Collective, which applauded the White House decision.
The White House’s recent statement and veto should serve as an important reminder of the dangers of categorising biomass energies as carbon-neutral and renewable without consideration for the immediate emissions.
Meantime, in the EU…
The EU legislation considers biomass energy production as carbon neutral, and Member States see biomass as an important tool to help them achieve their renewable energy targets under the Renewable Energy Directive. This flawed assumption is exacerbated by the fact that the EU does not have mandatory criteria ensuring sustainability in the use of biomass for energy production. Moreover, local campaigners often report the use of Refuse-Derived-Fuel or municipal solid waste as fuel, just included in the mix, as in the case of the biomass power plant in Greater Manchester that will mix industrial wood residues and municipal solid waste.
Recent reports have raised the alarms, showing that the European biomass industry is having a further impact on the US through the increased demand for wood pellets as fuel. Whilst biomass fuel company Enviva claim to predominantly use tree waste in their fuels, evidence from investigations in the US have found that this is not the case, with an attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Centersaying “the pellet industry and the [British] utility have been deceptive about the sources of wood they use. Enviva’s website says they’re using only waste wood, but you can follow the trucks to the harvest sites and see what they’re doing”. The Law Centre found that the pellets from Enviva were coming from hardwoods, and therefore falling far short of the British biomass fuel standards.
Indeed, the UK has been leading a particular focus on the development of biomass technologies and plants, with Drax plc. operators of the UK’s largest coal-fired power station, recently becoming the operators of the ‘biggest biomass power station in the world’. By continuing to see biomass energy as a ‘green’ option, the EU and the UK government are allowing for vast emissions to be produced with potentially devastating climate change impacts in the short and medium term. Oliver Munion from Biofuelwatch made it clear that using the “UK government’s own recently published biomass carbon calculator, it can be shown that a significant proportion of wood that Drax burns results in up to 3 times more carbon emissions than equivalent generation from burning coal”.
More profits for the cement industry
The cement industry has taken full advantage of the supposed carbon neutrality of biomass. Ostensibly to reduce CO2emissions, the cement industry has promoted its use of “alternative fuels” such as biomass and waste which they can claim is a carbon-neutral fuel source. In a response to the EU’s incentivisation of biomass incineration several organisations including the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) stated in a report that “the cement industry is green-washing the main reasons why it is repositioning in the industrial market as waste incineration, which has little to do with environmental issues but rather follows their economic interests. Indeed, waste incineration in cement is an environmentally harmful activity with worse consequences for public health and that does not reduce emissions as it’s claimed.”.
The statement from the White House on the carbon neutrality of biomass burning is a positive step towards the recognition of the full impacts of biomass energy generation. It is also an acknowledgement that the EPA cannot rely on overly simplistic science, to continue the justifying biomass burning as a sustainable source of energy.
For the EU and UK government, and many others around the world, the recognition of biomass burning as not inherently ‘carbon-neutral’ by the US government should be a clear message that the inclusion of biomass as a renewable and ‘carbon-neutral’ energy source is factually incorrect, and leading to a dangerous focus on polluting and environmentally destructive energies.
In Trbovlje, Slovenia, the Lafarge-owned cement plant has been ordered to stop operations after it’s been revealed that the plant lacks the necessary environmental permits. Still, the plant has filed a complaint to the Ministry of Environment of Slovenia and it’s expected that it will try to get further permissions, thus the local groups that have been campaigning against the environmental pollution from the plant for years, remain vigilant and under alert.
Eko Krog (Eco Circle) the Slovenian Society for Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection along with local residents, has been fighting the Lafarge plant’s burning of hazardous waste and campaigning on the issue of clean air for over 10 years. Since the beginning of their campaign in 2004, the group have denounced inadequate environmental permits given to the cement plant and have faced complicated legal challenges; on one occasion receiving over 500 pages of legal documents from Lafarge with only 14 days for comment.
The Lafarge plant received a permit to burn waste from 2009 to 2011, a period in which the plant burnt all kinds of hazardous and municipal solid waste. Thanks to Eko Krog and their efforts on the legal battle, the Court rejected the permit given to Lafarge and ordered the end of co-incineration of waste in the plant. However, Lafarge did not stop operations at the plant, which has led to Slovenia being subject to EU legal action for its failure to implement a permit system which ‘requires industrial plants to be licensed to verify they meet strict environmental controls’ in line with the IPPC Directive of 2007. In the course of this action, Lafarge has finally resumed operations in this plant, but it’s pursuing new permits.
The biggest obstacle to zero waste
In this recently released video, Uroš Marcerl, of Eko Krog, talks about the campaign against the pollution from the incineration of waste in the Lafarge plant. “We’ll never allow this story to repeat itself in the Zasavje region” he says “they’re interested in enormous profits through waste incineration – nothing else”. Erika Oblak from Ekologi Brez Meja (Ecologists Without Borders) says that Lafarge “in the end only care about annual profits”.
Waste incineration in cement kilns has been a growing problem as cement plants have increasingly moved to burning hazardous waste as opposed to producing cement in an effort to grow profits. However, the high level of heavy metals incinerated in the kilns poses a risk to surrounding communities and the environment. Professor emeritus Paul Connett of St. Lawrence University, New York has called waste incineration in cement kilns “the biggest obstacle to zero waste”.
Slovenia is at a tipping point, with more and more municipalities taking up zero waste goals, inspired by Ljubljana being the first EU capital to adopt a zero waste strategy. As municipalities pave the way for a zero waste future and phase out plans to build incinerators, there is a growing threat that the cement industry will increasingly pressure the government to use waste as fuel for their operations, despite obvious impacts on the environment and public health. Opposition to Lafarge’s waste burning practices is not exclusive to Trbovlje plant in Slovenia. In Montcada i Reixach, Catalonia, the High Court of Justice of Catalonia has rejected the environmental permit given to the Lafarge cement plant to burn waste. The local anti-incineration campaign Montcada Aire Nethave been calling for Lafarge to halt their waste burning activities for many years.
Whilst the Trbovlje cement plant continues to operate, so too does Eko Krog continue to oppose incineration in the region, and it is hoped that we will soon see the end of waste incineration in the Zasavje region.
Watch the video for yourself and see what you think:
From Friday 5th to Sunday 7 June, dozens of zero waste campaigners, experts and supporters from across Europe gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria for 3 days of discussion, planning and strategy at the Zero Waste Europe Annual General Assembly, hosted by Zero Waste Europe’s member in Bulgaria, Za Zemiata.
On Friday 5th, the Zero Waste Conference opened with a speech from Ivelina Vasileva, the Bulgarian Minister of environment and water. This was followed by a passionate speech from Enzo Favoino, the Chairman of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee, who told the audience that “we must never surrender to the idea that there is something which is not reusable or recyclable”.
The Director of Zero Waste Europe, Joan Marc Simon (ZWE) emphasised in his speech that zero waste is about “asking the right questions: not ‘Is it better to landfill or incinerate?’ but rather ‘How do you mainstream the support to re-use, recycling, and redesign?”.
In a series of short presentations, the conference heard the story of a variety of different campaigns and their successes and strengths. These included Camille Duran, from Green White Space, who
examined the economic context for zero waste as part of a larger “sharing economy” in a globalised world. Dimo Stefanov spoke about his challenges in creating a zero waste compost farm, and creating a viable zero waste business in Bulgaria.
Delphine Lévi spoke on behalf of Zero Waste France about the incredible speed at which their campaign has grown, and how zero waste has become “trendy” in France, with the possibility of many significant gains on the horizon.
Victor Mitjans from the Barcelona-based Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i el Consum Responsable, highlighted the use of ‘deposit schemes’ for recyclable materials as a financial incentive to increase the recovery rates of one-way packaging, and put forward the idea for this to be further extended towards other waste streams including precious metals and other pollutants. Csilla Urban, from Humusz in Hungary told the audience about the zero waste events they had held, as well as their plans for the future of Zero Waste in Hungary.
In the next presentation the conference heard from Sofia resident Irena Sabewa who had pioneered a community composting scheme called “living together” bringing together neighbourhood residents and using “community effort to produce community results”.
The presentations ended with a talk from Ilian Iliev from the Bulgarian Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. This talk tied together many of the key aspects of the Bulgarian zero waste movement. With a wide range of community projects focussing on addressing problems with collection, tackling low levels of knowledge and fighting incinerator projects. His closing remarks made clear challenges of tackling the various stakeholders of the zero waste project in Bulgaria, and claimed that it is only through working with these groups that Bulgaria can begin to move up the European ranking for waste management.
Saturday saw members of the Zero Waste network looking ahead to the coming years, discussing the priorities for the campaign and strategy for growing, developing and increasing the ‘Zero Waste Cities’ across Europe. The final day of the ZWE Annual Meeting saw a summary of the ideas presented over the previous two days as well as the administrative tasks of the AGM.
The meeting closed with an inspirational presentation from Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, Mariel Vilella who highlighted the global scale of zero waste campaigns, covering the work of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the changing landscape of global campaigning.
Throughout the meeting, hundreds of conversations took place, experiences were shared, tactics discussed and strategies developed setting the groundwork for increased pan-European actions and co-ordination. Hearing about the successes and struggles of groups organising for zero waste, left the Zero Waste network enthused, inspired and ready to drive the campaign for zero waste forward.
If you couldn’t make it the ZWE Sofia Meeting, or have only just heard about the ZWE network and want to get involved or help out, you can get in touch via email or have a look to see if there is a local group in your region by checking the Our Network section of the website.
Inter-linkages between waste and climate change issues are not always self-explanatory to the common eye. Apparently it seems that the former deals with the rubbish bin and the latter deals with reducing CO2 and typhoons, doesn’t it?
Well, if you still think this way, please feel very welcomed to check out our previous post about how we can bridge the two campaigning fronts and create mutually reinforcing positive drivers: zero waste solutions offer a very easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while creating green jobs, cutting down waste disposal pollution and building a more resource-efficient society.
The relevance of the connection between the two fields of action increases when we look at the money flows, especially money that is meant to support the mitigation and adaptation of climate change (aka, climate finance) and instead may end up supporting waste incinerators, cement kilns burning used tires or landfill gas capture in open landfills. Precisely, the kinds of projects that contribute to climate change rather than fighting it.
Another similar situation has emerged in Indonesia, where the national climate plan (Indonesia NAMA plan) has also encouraged cement plants to substitute the use of conventional fossil fuels and burn waste instead, and it’s seeking international financial aid of 2.063 million EUR to do so.
Alerts levels continue raising as we hear from multilateral development banks and top international finance leaders from the International Development Finance Club that waste-to-energy is one sector they could invest in in order to mitigate climate change. These global chiefs have recently published their Common Principles on what projects will be fit to receive climate finance. As said, waste-to-energy (e.g. incineration of waste, landfill gas capture, and landfill gas combustion) are amongst the eligible candidates.
It must be acknowledged that the Common Principles do refer to recycling projects as potential climate finance investments. Specifically, it reads as “Waste-recycling projects that recover or reuse materials and waste as inputs into new products or as a resource (only if net emission reductions can be demonstrated).”
Thus this may remind us that climate finance is a tool to mitigate climate change in the first place, and it’s up to all of us to ensure it goes to the right places. It’s about time that these financial institutions agree on an environmental criteria, certainly one for the waste sector is badly needed.
The 6th Spanish Gathering Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns took place the last 13–15 of March in Vilafranca del Penedès (Catalonia, Spain). It was organized by the Movement Against Waste incineration in Uniland – a cement company that started burning tires in the cement plant located next to Vilafranca del Penedès in 2010, raising huge concerns at the local level.
The gathering was a success of participation, with more than hundred people attending the morning conferences and representatives from over 25 platforms against waste incineration from all over Spain.
“The purpose of the morning conferences was to share the latest scientific and medical information on the effects of waste incineration on people’s health and the environment”, explained Mercè Mestres, one of the organizers of the gathering and founder of the Movement Against Waste incineration in Uniland.
All presentations confirmed, once again, that burning waste and by-products in cement kilns is the most untenable and dangerous form of handling waste. On the basis of the latest peer-reviewed papers in the field, the experts agreed in considering emissions related to waste incineration in cement plants as a health hazard for people, animals and plants, soils, air and water.
Dr. Eduard Rodriguez Farré, medical doctor and professor at the Institute for Biomedical Research of Barcelona, presented the results of two peer-reviewed papers elaborated by the Health Institute Carlos III in Madrid and recently published in international journals.
“We must insist that in an area like the Penedès, where the economy is based on the vineyards and the production of wine, this polluting practice can be very damaging to the local economy, as the pollution will show up in the final product, the wine”, said Dr. Rodriguez Farré. “We have enough data to be concerned about the increase of certain types of cancers, endocrine disorders, disruption of brain development and cognitive functions in foetal process resulting from waste incineration”, he concluded.
Dr. Carmen Valls, specialist endocrinologist and Director of the Public Health Program “Women, health and quality of life” unveiled the results of a survey conducted in early 2015 in the regional Hospital of Vilafranca del Penedès, in which the healthcare professionals detected subjectively an increase of cancer rates in the county. Vallès also provided detail about the short-term effects of waste incineration, mainly looking at in thyroid alterations, decreased sperm production, and increased congenital diseases, among others. The development of tumours and cancers were considered long-term effects.
Dr. Fernando Palacios, researcher at Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), presented about the economical impacts of waste incineration in cement plants, focusing on the damage made to public health during 2011.
Palacios explained that according to data from the European Environment Agency, 6 cement plants in Spain were amongst the 622 most polluting facilities in Europe. For these plants, Palacios presented figures for the loss of life expectancy in the surroundings of these plants, which would represent an economical cost ranging between 45 million EUR from Lafarge SA in Villaluenga de la Sagra and 70 million EUR in the cement plant in La Robla.
The final result stressed that the loss of life expectancy implied a cost of 319 million EUR for the public health systems as care for diseases resulting from this potential contamination.
The Gathering concluded with the public reading of a collectively elaborated Manifesto, that put forward the following demands:
The review of environmental authorizations given to the cement plants for the use of municipal solid waste, industrial waste and Refuse-Derived Fuel as combustion fuel.
The undertaking of epidemiological studies in areas where cement plants are already burning waste as fuel.
The implementation of healthy and sustainable waste management plans that aim at zero waste, as a main goal and guiding principle.
Do not political support to political parties that appear to be in favour of waste incineration, specially looking at the coming municipal election in May 2015.
Belgium managed to be the best performing country in waste management in 2013. Thanks to reducing waste generation and good recycling rates the Belgians managed to send for disposal in landfills and incinerators only 197kg per person.
The big (negative) surprise was Estonia, the European waste champion of 2012 managed to keep low waste generation rates but because of building an expensive incinerator it has reversed the virtuous progression of last years and 55% of the waste, mostly recyclable, is being now turned into ashes.
Same as in preceding years, the country that generates more waste is Denmark with 747kg per person (2kg per person per day!) and the one that generates less is Romania with 272kg, almost three times less. Of course the devil is in the details and an important factor for this big difference is the way statistics are processed in different countries but the graph shows the staggering disparity in the EU. In absolute terms Romania sends a lot less waste for disposal, 213kg per person, in comparison to 416kg in Denmark, but in percentage the former disposes of 78% whereas the latter burns and landfills 55%.
A worrying trend
However the figures confirm a worrying trend; recycling continues to stagnate. Whereas composting and recycling in 2012 were at 41,19%, in 2013 they only slightly increased to 41,79% (0,6% up).
In the same period landfilling has gone down 2% but this waste has not moved to recycling… instead it has been transferred to incineration. If we look at the following graph we will see how the current policies in the EU are taking waste out of landfills to throw it into incineration instead of recycling it. This is what some people, including some EU officials, call zero waste to landfill; definitely a bad idea!
When a system doesn’t work, you change the system
We have been denouncing since decades that incineration competes with recycling in getting waste out of the bottom of the hierarchy and that the current legislation lacks the tools to move waste up the waste hierarchy.
Since long time words have been backed by facts; our case studies and the story of the hundreds of European municipalities in Europe prove that it is possible to move away from landfilling to prevention, reuse and recycling –reducing waste generation at the same time as recycling increases- in 5 to 10 years. This is the real zero waste direction!
The stagnation of recycling in the EU should surprise no one. The Union lacks tools to promote prevention and reuse, it is victim of a system that economically rewards generating energy from burning waste instead of supporting the savings associated to reuse and recycling; plus it still doesn’t require countries to separate organic waste (the biggest waste stream) to allow for proper treatment as well as quality recycling of the rest.
The waste hierarchy was considered to be the ladder which waste should climb to be phase out of the system. However the EU doesn’t give the right tools to member states to be able to climb this ladder and continuous to insist in getting out of the landfills not worrying where this waste ends up.
No time to waste: circular economy package needed urgently!
The figures dating back to even before the approval of the Waste Framework Directive show the strategy from DG Environment doesn’t work. New tools are necessary to stop wasting time; the waste package recently binned by the Juncker Commission contained useful measures to move forward. The Circular Economy package that the European Commission intends to present end of 2015 should at the very least preserve most of them.
The Zero Waste (ZW) fair, celebrated in the context of the Zero Waste Month proclaimed by President Benigno Aquino III, was the first ever exhibition on waste, workshops on and trading of discards, and exchange of ideas and practices on waste in ways and forms that were accessible to everyone. Its aim was to multiply the pursuers of zero waste, and grow the benefits exponentially!
The workshops on recycling, composting, repurposing, and the proper handling of electronic waste were one key activity in the Fair. Most importantly, it was a gathering of people who wanted to learn from each other.
The diverse booths showcasing products made from recycled materials were particularly inspiring. Junk Not shared her stories of how most of plastic reused for her creations was found in a scrapyard and was going to be burnt. All her products were effectively (and beautifully) diverted from landfills and incinerators.
People could walk around exhibits; listen, discuss with others; participate in checking out propositions; even repair or repurpose their discards right on the fair site; and engage and trade online and carry it forward during the fair.
Interestingly, the ZW Fair counted with the participation of an international delegation of ‘zero-wasters’ that presented a perspective of Zero Waste experiences around the world. Nalini Shenkar from Hasiru Dala in Bangalore introduced the audience to the experience of organizing a cooperative of grassroots recyclers, which has involved the creation of 500 jobs in 2 years. Shibu K Nair from the Kerala-based organization Thanal talked about Zero Waste Himalayas, a network of more than 30 groups created in 2010 that promotes better resource use and recovery practices in the region of the Himalayas, particularly strategic since it holds the source of water for half of humanity in the planet. From the Global North, Monica Wilson, Recycler of the Year 2012 and GAIA‘s US and Canada Coordinator, explained the specific steps in the implementation of the Zero Waste program in San Francisco, a city that has been continually reducing its waste generation and it’s committed to a zero waste goal by 2020. Similarly, Mariel Vilella Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, introduced some of the European zero waste best practices.
These experiences reinforced a zero waste vision for Philippines, where the debate around waste management is currently hot and contentious. The National Solid Waste Management Commission is a designated group by the government to assess new waste management technologies and revise the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Act, which could potentially lower the current targets for air pollution and allow incinerators back in the country. The incinerator moratoria in Philippines has been a world-wide example to ensure a toxic-free environment, and its eventual cancellation is seen as a global threat.
Precisely, the Zero Waste Fair showed several municipalities that are already taking steps towards implementing zero waste programs. Nueva Vizcaya was one of the highlighted places that is actively working towards zero waste goals, with several initiatives on education, training, livelihoods, and planning.
Moreover, Mother Earth Foundation organized a visit to the local Barangay of Fort Bonifacio, Taguig (the native Filipino term to refer to the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, ie. a village, district or ward) that has transformed a former illegal landfill into a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), along with a source separation system that has currently reached 95% compliance. The separate collection scheme and management of materials in the MRF has formalized the work of 12 waste pickers and 5 MRF staff members, with a considerable raise in their monthly earnings and livelihood stability.
As a closing event, the Zero Waste Fair gave the Zero Waste Awards, as a salute to ZW heroes and pioneers, and a celebration of how far we’ve come on the road to Zero Waste.
15/01/2015 Translated from article published by GHK – click here for original text in Spanish and Basque
Although Gipuzkoa will have to pay the so-called SWAP, speculative products contracted by the former managers of the GHK (the Gipuzkoa Consortium for Waste Management), it will still have significant savings after stopping the construction of the incineration plant to have more recycling-oriented facilities.
After one year waiting, the Court has finally issued a judgement in the case against the SWAP. This case took to Court La Caixa and Santander (formerly Banesto) for an abusive use of the SWAP contracts. The Court decision has eventually been favourable to the banks.
This means that the province of Gipuzkoa will have to continue paying its SWAP fees, just as if it had used the loans that were requested to build the incineration plant, while it is not the case. In case the incineration had been built, these fees would have been paid too, which means that the judgement does not entail unforeseen costs.
The incineration plant had a total budget of €500 million (financial costs included). If it had been built, on top of these costs public authorities would have had to face the amortisation of the loans, a complete disaster to public finances. Such a big cost would have brought necessarily much higher costs for municipalities to treat their waste, which is hardly viable to most of them.
On the other hand, the new infrastructures projected by the Provincial Council and the Gipuzkoa Consortium for Waste Management are a comprehensive answer to waste management, as they close the loop in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way. In this sense, the total cost of the new facilities –even when including the speculative SWAP products subscribed during the former term- will be €250 million, half the price of the incineration plant alone, proposed during the last political term. Gipuzkoa will therefore save €250 million by scrapping the construction of the incineration plant and building facilities to recycle and compost municipal waste.
Carlos Ormazabal (Basque Nationalist Party) and Denis Itxaso (Socialist Party), former President and Vice-President of GHK respectively, admitted on a public hearing in front of the Committee on technical solutions of GHK that the incineration plant that they projected was oversized. This means that, if it had been built, the plant would not have had enough waste to burn, and, so, any of the banks’ clauses would have applied: either (1) importing waste to incinerate, or (2) raising the waste taxes to ensure the viability of the plant. Either of these clauses should have been in force the first 20 years of the facility until the end of the depreciation of the capital.
A remodelling of the plant was impossible, as according to law, projects may only be modified up to 10%, while the adaptation to Gipuzkoa’s needs required a 35% reduction of the project. Consequently, stopping the incineration plant was the right choice both from economic and environmental perspectives.
The judgement on SWAP, in contrast, makes clear the bad management of the former GHK’s board. The contract to build the incinerator was signed in 2011 when the former board was on its way out of office and when the new government was already elected. A huge financial burden was hence imposed on a community that had clearly expressed itself against this option in the streets and in the elections.
After the court ruling the Diputación de Gipuzkoa will have to pay the SWAPs that it never used but at least it managed to save 250 million euros in an investment which will have hijacked the current moves of the province towards the highest recycling rates seen in Spain.
27 November 2008: Start of the procedures and the studies to obtain funding to build up the incineration plant. These studies suggest a budget of €385 million. Financial expenditures would rise up to €115 million.
18 January 2009: the European Investment Bank expresses its willingness to fund the project, yet it warns the Gipuzkoa Consortium for Waste Management about the “political” risk of the financial operation.
1 April 2009: Signature of a contract with Price-Waterhouse-Coopers (PwC) to have legal and economic advice on incineration.
3 August 2010: Carlos Ormazabal subscribes the mandate letter with La Caixa and Banesto in order to obtain the line of credit. These two entities would provide €68 million, to be added to the €195 million of the European Investment Bank and the €122 million of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa
24 January 2011: La Caixa does a Test of Convenience to Carlos Ormazabal (former President of GHK), so as to evaluate whether the SWAP product fit the needs of the client. La Caixa states in its report “the product is not suitable to the you, provided the lack of knowledge and experience needed to understand and evaluate the risks and the consequences of this product”. La Caixa places Ormazabal under the “retailer” category. Referring to this precise product, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive states that in case the results of the Test of Convenience were negative, the product could not be recommended to the client.
3 February 2011: Approval of all the funding contracts of the incineration plant, except for those for the SWAP that did not go to the GHK’s board.
9 February 2011: La Caixa re-evaluates Carlos Ormazabal from “retailer” to “professional” through the signature of the “Request of change of MiFID category” made by Ormazabal himself.
11 February 2011: Signature of the SWAP transaction with Banesto and La Caixa by the President of GHK Carlos Ormazabal.
22 May 2011: Elections to the General Council of the Basque Country leading to a change of government at the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa.
30 June 2011: Beginning of the liquidation of the SWAP fees by Banesto and La Caixa to GHK. From that day onwards, the fees had risen €14 million.
13 October 2011: At his last board meeting, Carlos Ormazabal the Final Project to build the incineration plant is approved, 7 days before changing the board of GHK. If this has not taken place, the contract could have been terminated without any compensation. Besides, the termination of the SWAP contracts would have been far easier and cheaper. This decision was taken against the clear order of the already in power provincial Councillor for the Environment Juan Carlos Alduntzin.
September 2012: Request of the current managers of GHK to the banks to adjust the liquidations of the SWAP fees to the part of the line of credit provided but unamortised (€9.7 million).
29 November 2012: GHK notifies to Banesto and La Caixa that they are not allowed to keep cashing the SWAP fees on a loan that is not being used. However, both entities ignore the request and keep cashing the entire fees on the bank accounts.
31 May 2013: Assertion of a claim of GHK against Banesto and La Caixa for unjust interpretation of the SWAP and against Price-Waterhouse-Cooper for negligent advice to GHK.
10 June 2013: Admission to procedure of the claim of the current managers of GHK.
26 February 2014: Beginning of the oral procedure against Banesto, La Caixa Price-Waterhouse-Coopers, for unjust interpretation of the SWAP and negligent advice.
14 January 2015: The judge of chamber nr.4 of the Lower Court of Donostia rules in favour of the interests of the banks.
To learn more about the story in Gipuzkoa see this video.