Business as usual for waste incineration as ‘updated’ EU protections match or weaken existing guidelines

Chemical factory in the morning, with pipes and polluting smoke, long exposure

A three-year process to update EU environmental standards for waste incineration plants could be about to lead to new rules that most currently operating facilities already comply with. The latest draft even weakens some key protections compared to existing guidelines, a report published today reveals.

A Wasted Opportunity? EU environmental standards for waste incineration plants under review’ also contains a scorecard revealing the position taken by national government representatives during the drafting process.  While the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Belgium are commended for their efforts to raise standards, Germany, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and the Czech Republic are condemned for their efforts to weaken the new rules.

EEB Technical Expert Aliki Kriekouki, who has taken part in working group meetings that provided advice to those drafting the rules said:

“People in Europe expect the EU to have the world’s best environmental standards, yet after three years of work to update the rules for waste incineration, we’re stuck with a proposal that makes some progress but falls short of boosting the deployment of effective, readily available technologies that prevent or minimise harmful pollution.

“For air pollution, maximum emissions levels have largely remained unchanged, with the levels of some critical pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and mercury being raised compared to the existing guidance. Sadly, especially for people living near these plants, it’s a clear cut case of one step forward, two steps back.”

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations with around 140 organisations in more than 30 countries.

More than 80 million tons of waste is burnt in Europe every year, which campaigners warn is incompatible with the aim of moving to  ‘circular economy’ – where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled.

Waste incineration plants are responsible for toxic emissions of health-harming substances including dioxins, heavy metals and particulate matter known to cause respiratory diseases, cancers, immune system damage and reproductive and developmental problems.

The EU sets minimum binding standards for industry as part of the Industrial Emissions Directive. Standards documents are known as ‘BREFs’. Along with industry and Member State representatives the EEB takes part in a consultation process that informs the European Commission while drafting these standards.[1]

The current draft proposals for an updated Waste Incineration BREF to replace the last one adopted in 2006 have been under development for almost three years and will likely not need to be complied with until 2024.

To download:

‘A wasted opportunity? EU environmental standards for waste incineration plants under review’ report

Report on EU environmental standards for waste incineration


[1] For more information about BREFs (Best Available Technique Reference Documents) and the process to draft them, please see:

Business as usual for waste incineration as ‘updated’ EU protections match or weaken existing guidelines
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