New rules for waste incineration plants in the EU will be voted on 17 June in Brussels, but rather than reducing the environmental impact of one of Europe’s most controversial industries, they could encourage certain facilities to add biomass waste into their fuels mix so they can fall under a more lenient regulatory framework.
A loophole that has survived into the final draft of the new rules could allow plant operators to pollute more if they add biomass – like wood chippings or vegetable waste – to the hazardous materials they already burn.
Christian Schaible, Policy Manager for Industrial Production at the EEB said:
“People expect EU rules to mean safer industry and a reduced environmental impact and industry expects a level playing field where all companies must follow the same rules. So it’s astonishing that we now face a situation where a loophole could encourage some to use a poisonous mix of waste to dodge EU limits.”
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations, with 150 members in more than 30 countries. The EEB represents European environmental NGOs at EU talks on new industrial rules.
Under current proposals certain waste co-incineration plants burning only 100% non-biomass waste, will need to follow tighter rules and cut their emissions, but if they mix their wastes with biomass they could be exempt from the new rules.
Despite objections from environmental groups, a number of governments and even some industry bodies, the current proposal  excludes from its scope the co-incineration of waste if at least partially comprised of biomass waste. This means that these plants will operate under less strict conditions.
Large incinerators, with a thermal input of 50 MW or above, will need to follow more lenient rules set in the BAT conclusions for large combustion plants, but this document also refers back to the new waste incineration standards, which, due to the loophole, exempt certain fuels mixed with other waste, including hazardous substances.
Smaller incinerators, with a thermal input of less than 50 MW will not have to comply with any EU BAT standards.
The EEB and partners at Zero Waste Europe had already alerted the Commission that the current formulation creates regulatory loopholes that could result in poor implementation of EU rules in a letter sent in April this year. However, it appears this warning has so far been ignored.
Christian Schaible, Policy Manager for industrial production said:
“It’s important that the Commission and governments now heed our warning to remove this loophole.”
The EEB is calling for the word “exclusively” to be added to the following sentence, which would remove the current exemption and close the loophole:
The first bullet point in section 5.2 of the WI BAT-C scope should be modified slightly: The WI BREF BAT-C standards should apply “if wastes are combusted, except if those wastes are exclusively composed of biomass (as defined in Article 3(31 (b) of Directive 2010/75/EU)”
The EEB has been critical about the review of the waste incineration standards. The review has failed to require emission cuts in line with what is technically possible using available environmental protection techniques although some minor improvements have been made since we published the report ‘A Wasted Opportunity’ in April last year.
More than 80 million tonnes of household waste is burnt in Europe every year. Campaigners warn this is incompatible with the aim of moving to ‘circular economy’ – where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled.