A new report by GAIA highlights issues surrounding incineration overcapacity, the threat of incineration to recycling, and the shipment of waste within Europe, leading to calls for restrictions on new incineration capacity within Europe.

The report, released today, is entitled Incineration overcapacity and waste shipping in Europe: the end of the proximity principle?. The report’s authors conclude that there is more incineration capacity than there is trash to burn, and that this is threatening recycling in Europe.

The study finds that despite already burning 22% of EU’s waste, the industry plans to increase the European incineration capacity, undermining the objectives set out in the Waste Framework Directive (WFD 2008/98/EC) and the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, which advocate the prioritisation of waste prevention, re-use and recycling.

The issues of RDF in the UK and incineration overcapacity have also been raised by a recent parliamentary question regarding the amount of RDF exported from the UK (and a related request under the Environmental Information Regulations); an Isonomia article in October 2012 on the merits of exporting waste compared to building domestic UK capacity; Eunomia’s November 2012 predictions regarding residual waste treatment overcapacity by 2015 (which UKWIN sees as demonstrating existing incineration overcapacity in relation to genuinely residual waste); and recent warnings from WRAP, CPI and the European Commission against incineration overcapacity.

According to Joan Marc Simon, coordinator of GAIA in Europe:

If the European Commission is to maintain its commitment to limit incineration to non-recyclables by 2020, the strategy should be to close incinerators and not to build new ones. The objectives of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap and recycling targets won’t be achieved unless the European Commission tightly controls the European incineration capacity.

If incineration overcapacity continues and/or is extended it will either be at the expense of taxpayers – because it will increase waste fees to compensate for the unused installed capacity – or it will hijack waste prevention and recycling – because there will not be enough waste to burn. The European Commission should control the supply of incineration capacity in the European market to ensure it doesn’t endanger prevention and recycling. It should also remove all the economic and legal incentives that today make burning waste preferable to recycling.

Dr. Hartmut Hoffmann of BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) adds that:

In Germany the objectives of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe are nothing but empty words, because there are hardly any obstacles against building new incineration plants, and the recycling targets of packaging material are still too low. Improvements in waste prevention and recycling are happening only slowly, if at all.

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), explains:

The European Commission has warned the United Kingdom to pursue reuse and recycling rather than overcapacity of incineration, and has noted that: ‘Countries like Denmark and Switzerland are burning much more than they should and that’s not good’ [1]. However, the Government has not even been monitoring the situation in the UK, despite the fact that there is already more incineration capacity in the UK than genuinely residual waste.

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Policy Officer at CNIID (National Center for Independent Information on Waste) points out that:

France has one quarter of all European incinerators, yet there are new ones still in the pipeline. The incineration overcapacity in the country is responsible for the low implementation of the necessary separate collection and recycling programs. As a result our recycling rates are lower than they could be.”

According to Margalida Ramis, coordinator of the local group GOB in Majorca:

Majorca has the sad honour to host the largest incinerator in southern Europe. As a result the citizens pay the highest waste fee in Spain and suffer the health impacts associated to burning theirs and others waste. The Waste Framework Directive was the excuse to build an incinerator that depends on waste imports to operate and oppresses recycling (in 2011 84% of the municipal waste was incinerated, only 16% recycled).

The proximity principle (art16 WFD 2008/98/EC) advocates that waste should be treated close to the point at which is generated and that “the network shall be designed to enable the Community as a whole to become self-sufficient in waste disposal and recovery operations”. Since the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) opened the European market to incineration, the shipment of waste for recovery operations has increased which means more non-national waste is burned in the EU.

The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011)571), supported by the resolution of the European Parliament of May 24, 2012, states that by 2020 incineration with energy recovery should be limited to non-recyclable materials. Currently the EU burns 22% and non-recyclable materials amount to less than 20%.

[1] UK edges up European recycling league table. letsrecycle.com, 1 March 2012.

GAIA logoGAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 650 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. GAIA campaigns against incinerators and in favour of safe, sustainable and just alternatives.

Their dual name reflects their dual purpose. As the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance, GAIA mobilises grassroots action against the spread of incinerators and other polluting, end-of-pipe waste technologies. As the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, GAIA is building the movement for environmental justice, local green economies, and creative zero waste solutions.

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