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Waste-to-energy in the EU ETS counters sustainable waste management – ESWET

Responding to the recent public consultation on the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the European Suppliers of Waste-to-Energy Technology (ESWET) welcomes the revision but warns that the inclusion of waste-to-energy (WtE) in the EU ETS would "run against" its overarching objective of reducing emissions. Instead, such inclusion is likely to trigger more landfilling of non-recyclable waste and more use of fossil fuels.

According to the European Suppliers of Waste-to-Energy Technology (ESWET), waste-to-energy (WtE), aka energy-from-waste (EfW) remains the best technology when it comes to dealing with waste unsuitable for recycling. Applying the obligations of the EU ETS on energy recovery from waste on plants such as Stockholm Exergi’s Brista facility in Sweden, would not only hurt climate mitigation but would also affect the circular economy objectives (photo courtesy ESWET).

ESWET says that it welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the EU Emissions Trading System’s revision (EU ETS) in the public consultation that closed on February 5, 2021. The waste management sector bears an essential role in the EU’s ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Waste-to-energy (WtE) plants contribute by treating the fraction of municipal waste unfit for recycling, as a part of the Effort Sharing Regulation.

According to ESWET, the inclusion of waste incineration in the EU ETS would run against its overarching objective of reducing emissions. It is likely to trigger more landfilling of non-recyclable waste and more use of fossil fuels.

Reducing WtE plants’ capacity would increase the amount of non-recyclable waste sent to landfills, negatively impacting the Member States’ objectives of 65 percent recycling and 10 percent landfilling rates by 2035.

Alternatively, the waste would be transported outside the EU ETS zone, potentially shipped to countries with less stringent environmental standards. In this context, ESWET suggests that it could be appropriate to consider taxing waste exports based on their environmental harm potential.

Waste-to-energy a significant heat and power supplier

In 2018, WtE plants supplied electricity to 18 million EU citizens and heat to 15 million EU citizens. At least half of the energy output from such facilities is considered renewable. With a reduced amount of the energy recovered by these plants, there would be an increased need for other constant energy sources, resulting in a possible increase in fossil fuel demand.

ESWET highlights that WtE, also known as energy-from-waste (EfW) remains the best technology when it comes to dealing with waste unsuitable for recycling. Applying the obligations of the EU ETS on energy recovery from waste would not only hurt climate mitigation but would also affect the circular economy objectives.

We believe that including Waste-to-Energy into the EU ETS would miss the target as it would not reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the waste management sector. Indeed, the sector’s GHG impact is not limited to direct CO2 emissions: it includes other factors, such as methane emissions from landfills, energy savings through recycling, and GHG offset by energy recovery, said Anabelle Schatten, Policy Officer at ESWET.

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