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The story of REC: The hidden emissions of the youngest Dutch incinerator

The story of REC: The hidden emissions of , the youngest incinerator in the Netherlands.

The youngest incinerator in the Netherlands: Reststoffen Energie Centrale (REC) is one of 13 waste incinerators currently in operation in the Netherlands. The waste incineration power plant is located in Harlingen, adjacent to the UNESCO Wadden Sea coastline in the northern part of the Netherlands. When it was built in 2011, it was proudly declared by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs as the "most advanced" device, the best in Western Europe.

"Although the youngest incinerator in the Netherlands is the most advanced, it is far from clean: long-term tests have shown that the emissions of dioxins, furans and persistent organic pollutants far exceed the limits. The case of the REC plant is relevant for the future The policy formulation of waste incineration and its potential impact on public health and the environment raises important questions."

However, long-term tests have shown that the plant's emissions of dioxins, furans and toxic pollutants far exceed the limits set by EU law. Initially, in order to send energy to nearby salt factories, REC incinerators could only burn Friesian household waste. However, nowadays waste imports come from all over the Netherlands. In addition to household waste, REC waste input also includes industrial waste, digestion and sewage sludge.

In November 2018, Zero Waste Europe and Toxico Watch published a case study that revealed how even the most advanced incinerators emit hazardous pollutants that far exceed the EU's toxic emission limits. The report states that the dioxin emissions from REC incinerators are underestimated and are not an exception, as they often far exceed the limits set by environmental permits (0.01 ng TEQ/Nm3). Most importantly, the study also revealed how the loopholes were hidden due to unreliable tests that severely underestimated the emission levels. The local community responded and citizens led by the Stichting Afvaloven Nee Foundation sued REC for discharging toxic substances.

In May 2019, the Dutch Council of State, the Supreme Administrative Court of the Netherlands, stated that the management of waste-to-energy plants REC had incorrectly applied the regulations on the measurement of toxic emissions*. These regulations incorrectly apply to all substances. The court's decision only concerns the discharge of hydrochloric acid. In fact, in order to hide these excessive emissions, REC directly subtracts the default 4 mg/Nm3 from the annual average. The State Council’s ruling means that the incinerator has discharged thousands of kilograms of toxic substances based on annual emissions reports for many years, and insisted that the national public authorities should resolve the plant and its hidden emissions.

Experts still doubt whether REC can reduce the discharge of hydrochloric acid in the near future. It seems that the practice of concealing excessive discharge is not an isolated case, but a common practice in European waste incinerators.

"The short-term emission sampling currently required by the European Union shows serious defects and allows hidden emissions. We must urgently amend waste incineration emission monitoring rules to protect people's health and safety."

More and more people around the world are aware of the impact of waste incineration, which has a more serious impact on low-income communities. In fact, GAIA recently released a report from the Tishman Speyer Environment and Design Center, a new school in New York City. The report shows that of the 73 incinerators remaining in the United States, approximately eight out of ten are located in poorer communities. It has been overburdened with pollution from other industrial sources, causing cumulative effects that regulators failed to take into account when setting emission limits. One thing that is very clear in the report is that in terms of prevention and monitoring, government regulations and law enforcement agencies are not doing enough to protect people from the consequences of incineration.

From this perspective, the results of the REC incinerator case raise important questions for the future policy formulation of waste incineration safety, which is aggravating climate change and endangering public health and the environment. Europe now has an opportunity to support more sustainable alternatives, while investing first in reducing waste.

Read more about the ToxicoWatch report here and download our case study here!


Zero Waste Europe and TOXICOWATCH Case Study: Hidden Emissions-Stories from the Netherlands

Report: TOXICOWATCH: Hidden Emissions of Hydrochloric Acid

Article: Measurement Uncertainty and Hidden Emissions of Hydrochloric Acid

Letter from the European Commission

GAIA report: U.S. municipal solid waste incinerators-a declining industry

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