Burning waste makes the climate on fire! Zero Waste Europe has released a new policy brief, focusing on the impact of waste incineration power generation on climate change
. In the past few years, the trend of staying away from landfills has prompted many European member states to seek quick solutions and foresee substantial investments to push them to waste incineration facilities. In fact, in 2017, more than 70 million tons of garbage was burned across Europe. In this case, waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration is generally considered a wise way to eliminate the waste problem and also a low-carbon source of energy creation... But is it really the case?
Today, Zero Waste Europe released a new policy brief, explaining why this is far from the truth.
In fact, as the evidence shows, the carbon intensity of electricity produced by incinerators in Europe is twice the intensity of the current EU average grid, and is significantly higher than energy produced through traditional fossil fuel sources such as natural gas. This comparison clearly shows that the carbon emissions generated by waste incineration power generation are much higher than the current grid, which shows that incineration actually has a significant impact on our climate.
In addition, some reports have emphasized the high proportion of recyclables in residual waste, which can be recycled or composted, which can actively reduce carbon emissions while activating other environmental benefits. In addition, incinerators need to continuously burn waste, which will encourage communities to maintain or even increase waste generation rather than reduce waste generation. This will help lock society in a linear economy and thus justify discarding a culture (see How incineration hinders recycling in our blog).
It is clear from the briefing that waste incineration is not a low-carbon energy source. In fact, the strategy of turning waste into energy may seriously undermine the EU's efforts to achieve net zero emissions from climate change by 2050. In fact, WtE incineration construction lasted about 30 years, delaying the much-needed and urgent transition to less carbon-intensive energy infrastructure (such as wind and solar renewable energy).
Converting waste into energy and electricity will not promote the energy sector’s ambitious emission reductions consistent with the Paris Agreement and truly seek to limit the global average temperature rise below 1.5°C.
Janek Vähk, European Zero Waste Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Coordinator
The European Commission recently excluded waste incineration from economic activities that help mitigate climate change because it harms the circular economy (learn more in our policy brief). With this view in mind, Zero Waste Europe calls on the European Commission to further consider the impact of waste-to-energy plants on the climate, while taking clear steps to move from incineration to a zero-waste road. As the briefing pointed out: "Continue to promote the conversion of waste into energy incineration, which has largely exceeded the EU average, and even worse, traditional fossil fuel energy production, such as natural gas." This will be environmentally friendly. Irresponsible.
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