Brussels -- Recently adopted EU waste legislation and its implementation at national level could have a significant effect on some countries emission loads for municipal solid waste incinerators, according to a recent study. The study suggests that the effects of increasing incineration over the next decade would be most profound for countries where incineration is currently only used on a small scale.
Material or energy recovery
The study simulated greenhouse gas and cadmium emissions from MSWI plants at EU level and national level for the year 2020, as compared to a 2005 baseline, based on shifting waste management policy. By calculating potential emissions under four different policy scenarios, it provided an emissions range, rather than a definite value, for each country. The emissions only account for MSWI outputs - not reductions in emissions from other sources. Thus, the emissions reduction benefits from using energy from waste instead of landfilling waste, or replacing other energy sources such as carbon, have not been taken into account.
For each of the four policy scenarios, it was assumed that policy could shift towards energy recovery or towards material recovery at the EU and national level. For instance, while EU policy might focus on energy recovery (including waste incineration), a countrys national policy might focus instead on material recovery (including recycling) or vice versa. The emissions range was calculated as the difference between emissions in the two most extreme scenarios: 1) focus on energy recovery at both levels and 2) focus on materials recovery at both levels.
From 19 to 195 kg
In 2005, half of the 33 European countries included in the study had per capita GHG emissions from MSWI plants below 19kg CO2 (per country). By 2020, according to the researchers simulation, an (extreme) energy recovery policy focus at both levels could result in half of all these countries having per capita GHG emissions from MSWI plants above 195kg CO2. Cadmium emissions would be higher under the extreme energy recovery scenario compared to the opposing materials recovery scenario. This is because extreme energy recovery predicts that a higher proportion of cadmium-containing batteries would be incinerated, whereas under extreme materials recovery, more would be recycled. However, in 2020, under the extreme energy recovery scenario, emissions in only two countries would be higher than in 2005, which is due to effective emission abatement measures being applied.
Any extreme shift in waste management policy is predicted to have the greatest effect on MSWI emissions in those countries where incineration is not yet well established. In Poland, for example, which in 2008 was incinerating less than 1 percent of its waste, the effect would be marked. GHG emissions from incineration could increase by more than 300 times their 2005 levels under the most extreme energy recovery scenario. However, this does not take into account reduced emissions from other energy sources or reduced landfilling. By contrast, effects on Switzerland, which already incinerates around half of its municipal waste, will be minimal. The most extreme scenarios simulated in the study are not expected to occur in reality, however, the methods the researchers developed provide a useful way to explore the range of effects that could be associated with policy shifts, and the potential for different countries to experience effects of different magnitudes depending on their existing policies. The researchers also point out the limitations of their work perhaps most notably that the study focused specifically on emissions from MSWI plants and did not consider the wider impacts of waste policy changes.
Original source: Saner, D., Blumer, Y.B., Lang, D.J., Koehler, A. (2011). Scenarios for the implementation of EU waste legislation at national level and their consequences for emissions from municipal waste incineration. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 57: 67-77. Quelle: EU commission