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The Nordics addiction to incineration fuels the controversy on renewable energy

The Nordic’s addiction to incineration has exacerbated the controversy over the renewable energy

If safeguards are not included, the renewable energy legislation promoted by some member states may undermine the EU’s circular economy strategy

Cause controversy

Renewable energy is a hot topic today, parliament and council are negotiating new renewable energy directives, and the conversion of waste into energy is fueling the debate.

One of the main controversies indeed stems from the attempts of some Nordic member states to convert municipal waste into energy without being restricted by any sustainability standards.

This is not surprising: in the past few years, some EU countries have systematically overinvested in combustion facilities and underinvested in recycling. As a result, they now have long-term contracts (40-50 years) with factories that require a 24-hour uninterrupted waste stream to maintain operations.

Many of these countries, especially Sweden, even import large amounts of waste from abroad to meet the needs of their facilities.

Since regulating the use of waste energy may affect their economic interests, these countries have been pushing the council to exempt municipal waste incineration from sustainability standards and greenhouse gas conservation standards.

as a result of? If this version of the text is adopted, the next Renewable Energy Directive will not only undermine member states’ efforts to move towards a circular economy, but will also result in a significant increase in overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Take Denmark as an example. The country discovered a few years ago that its incinerator emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide originally estimated, which has led to the country’s failure to achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

An inefficient fuel

The problem with over-reliance on waste-to-energy is that waste is an extremely inefficient fuel because of its relatively low calorific value. Municipal solid waste is mainly composed of organic waste, such as food waste, paper and yard waste, which contains a large amount of water (80%). This means that incinerators need to input additional energy to process the waste first to make it suitable for combustion, and they obtain this energy from other fossil sources, which can be recycled in other ways, such as plastic or tires.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the incinerator can only produce a small amount of net energy, if any. Recent studies have found that although older incinerators generate electricity with extremely low efficiency of 19-27%, the conversion efficiency of new incineration technologies is even lower.

In addition, urban mixed waste is not and should not be regarded as "renewable" energy, because it is never entirely composed of organic matter. In fact, most of the calorific value generated by mixed waste incineration comes from the combustion of fossil carbon-based materials. Studies have shown that typical waste incineration facilities emit more carbon dioxide per MWh than natural gas power plants, and if biological emissions are included, they are more than coal-fired power plants.

In addition, waste should not be considered renewable at all, even in the organic sector, because the ultimate goal is to reuse it as promoted by other binding EU legislation (such as the Waste Framework Directive). The directive was recently revised in the European Union’s Circular Economy Strategy, giving priority to waste reduction, reuse and recycling, while reducing incineration. Treating waste as a renewable energy source runs counter to these bold EU goals.

In addition, monitoring the biodegradable part and the fossil-based part is logically and technically challenging. Therefore, it is usually assumed that the proportion of organic waste accounts for 40%-50% of all urban mixed waste. For example, Italy passed a law stating that 51% of all municipal solid waste is organic waste. However, given the heterogeneity of waste and the huge differences between regions and factories, the actual percentage is neither fixed nor reliable.

Need for safeguards

Far from representing an effective source of renewable energy and an effective alternative to waste disposal, incineration has proven to be an expensive and wasteful process that is not suitable for a circular economy. Although some member states are already dealing with the consequences of excessive investment in waste-to-energy facilities, it is clear that safeguards are needed to prevent other countries from making the same mistakes.

Fortunately, the European Parliament has proposed several incremental amendments to amend the proposal, such as the introduction of sustainability standards for waste for energy, and the requirement for member states to periodically review their policies to ensure that municipal waste is used in accordance with waste levels. . Energy is wasted, and operators are required to meet at least 70% greenhouse gas emission reduction standards.

It is important now that the parliament and the council do not succumb to the pressure of certain member states to continue business as usual.

The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive is an opportunity to choose options that truly promote rather than undermine sustainability. Circular economy methods of waste and resource management, including reduction, reuse, recycling and composting, are cost-effective and safer ways to create jobs while protecting the climate and the environment.

"Although some member states are already dealing with the consequences of excessive investment in waste-to-energy facilities, it is clear that safeguards are needed to prevent other countries from making the same mistakes."

About the latest post

Chemical recycling legislation should take precautions to ensure that precautions remain at the core of the EU’s commitment to circular economy-10/07/2020 Nordic reliance on incineration intensifies the controversy over renewable energy-19/04/2018

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