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Air pollution negotiations: falling short of breath

Air pollution negotiations: breathless


After two years of negotiations, the European Union's directive to regulate air pollution targets at the national level (National Ceiling Emissions Directive)1 concluded with strong divergence and no obvious results.

A proposal made by the European Commission and the European Parliament with a firm commitment to address air pollution was downplayed by several member states and then rejected by the parliament. After being rejected, the Environment Committee (convening the environment ministers of the member states) convened a meeting and finally tried to remove the obstacles to the negotiations, but so far no results have been achieved. The next steps have not yet been announced.

One of the most positive aspects of the European Commission’s proposal is the inclusion of particulate matter (PM 2.5) targets, which are often the result of unsustainable waste treatment practices, especially waste incineration or so-called waste-to-energy incineration.

Zero Waste Europe calls on policymakers to maintain their ambitions in the following letter, reminding them that a recent study of a medium-sized city in southwestern Sweden clearly stated that their new modern incinerator is the single most important source of PM2.5. 2

In addition, the letter pointed out that the pollution caused by ultrafine particles has become more serious, calling for reduction of air pollution at the source, strict monitoring and transparent mechanisms.

Evidence from the waste incineration industry shows that the filter bag system used to collect PM and other toxic emissions is much less efficient, with fine particulate PM<2.5: "...For PM10, the bag filter has a collection efficiency of 95 -99%, 65-70% PM2.5, particles smaller than 2.5 microns are only 5-30%, even before the filter is coated with lime and activated carbon, it is only 5-30%."3

As the air pollution report caused by waste disposal shows: not used for public breathing, waste incineration activities seriously violated emission restrictions, and encountered other major technical and legal problems in incineration facilities and cement plants in Europe. Case studies in the United Kingdom, France, Slovenia, Spain, and Germany have exposed many environmental, procedural, and technical problems faced by waste incinerators, resulting in massive and unsustainable air pollution, especially PM.4

The main countries opposed to the EC proposal are Britain, France, Poland and Italy. In view of the outcome of Brexit, the proposal may need to be reconsidered anyway. Hope this will be an opportunity to increase ambition and protect the air we all breathe.

1 The NEC Directive sets an upper limit on the amount of air pollution that EU countries can emit. It currently focuses on the upper limits of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4), which will be met by members by 2020 , 2025 and 2030.


3 Howard C.V., the health effects of incineration, especially the toxicological effects of ultrafine particle aerosols, organic chlorine and other emissions. Evidence submitted to the public investigations of the East Sussex and Brighton and Hove local plans in 2003.


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