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How to beat incineration: a story from Portugal

How to beat incineration: a story from Portugal

At ZERO, we are committed to a wide range of issues and topics, not just limited to waste, but recently we have focused a lot of work and attention on the circular economy, including implementing various EU legislative instruments approved by the EU. The last two years. Considering that ZERO is mainly dedicated to influencing public policy, it turns out that this is a very important moment for us, because there are already many opportunities to ensure that several European Commission directives are correctly converted and implemented.

Portugal has recently revised its municipal solid waste strategic plan (PERSU 2020+), with the goal of reformulating its waste management framework by 2025, as the country has been exempted from the European Commission’s 2020 target. PERSU 2020+ lays the foundation for the future implementation of waste directives nationwide. It reflects the 2018 revision of the EU Waste Framework Directive, which outlines the 65% recycling rate and landfill rate of no more than 10% in the member states by 2035.

Although we welcome the new plans and strategies for waste management, it is clear that PERSU 2020+ has not done enough in terms of ambition or specific policy requirements. For example, it took Portugal more than 20 years to reach a 22% recycling rate of municipal solid waste. To achieve the EU's 2025 and 2030 recycling and waste prevention goals, the rate of change shown in the past needs to be nearly tripled. Therefore, for us, it is clear that Portugal needs to change its strategy to pay more attention to separate collection (door-to-door), especially including biological waste collection and higher levels of investment in recycling capacity.

However, when the new waste management plan was first released, it lacked sufficient details and ambitions, which needed to meaningfully change our consumption and production patterns in Portugal and meet the required recycling targets set by the European Union. For example, although Portugal has burned more than 20% of its municipal waste, 40% of the 500 million euro investment outlined in the national plan is used to increase waste incineration capacity, about 500,000 tons per year, which is in line with the circular economy or the EU’s own The definition of sustainable economic activity is incompatible with policies.

In order to solve this problem, ZERO began to implement a number of initiatives in Portugal. These initiatives, combined with some complementary political changes, provided us with the right background to successfully promote the revision of the national waste management plan.

This includes:

Provide decision makers with data to prove that establishing more incineration capacity in Portugal will prevent the country from meeting the EU's 65% recycling target by 2035.

In a meeting with the Ministry of Environment on the new waste plan, the evidence presented explained that increasing our national incineration capacity is in direct contradiction with the carbon neutral roadmap approved in 2050, in which incineration capacity is not expected to increase.

Emphasize the fact that due to the recent revision of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive and the European Parliament’s recent vote to limit the European Cohesion Fund’s expenditure on incineration, it is no longer possible to use the European Fund to fund incineration projects.

Take advantage of the fact that the new Minister of State for the Environment did not have a specific background in the environment or waste sector when he took office. Of course, except for strange exceptions, our past experience tells us that, generally speaking, people from outside the industry are often "free thinkers" who can view data and decide on policy relationships or contacts more freely than they already have. Benefit from the status quo and continued funding of obsolete waste incineration trends.

In the end, the national waste management plan was approved, clearly focusing on increasing investment in key strategic areas and promoting the recycling of domestic wastes, such as door-to-door collection systems, compulsory bio-waste separation collection, and composting these wastes and using them for Zero funds for incineration.

It has never been an easy task to fight the terrible technological solutions that prevent us from achieving a true circular economy. It will never end, but we hope that this Portuguese success story can inspire others to explore.

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