Waste-to-Energy technology is one of the most robust and effective alternative energy options to reduce CO2 emissions and to save limited fossil fuel resources used by traditional power plants.
Currently, Waste-to-Energy Plants in Europe can supply 17 million inhabitants with electricity and 15 million inhabitants with heat. This is based on 88 million tonnes of remaining household and similar waste that was treated in 2014 in Europe.
Depending on the fuel you replace – gas, oil, hard coal or lignite – between 9 – 48 million tonnes of fossil fuels emitting 24 – 48 million tonnes of CO2, would not need to be used by conventional power plants to produce this amount of energy.
According to EU legislation the biodegradable fraction of municipal and industrial waste is considered biomass, thus a renewable energy source [Link to the EU RES Directive]. The energy output from Waste-to-Energy plants is about 50% renewable.
Waste-to-Energy plants in Europe supply a considerable amount of renewable energy, some 38 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, and by 2020 this amount will grow to at least 67 billion kilowatt-hours, but potentially reach 98 billion kilowatt-hours. This will be, in the latter case, enough to supply 22.9 million inhabitants with renewable electricity and 12.1 million inhabitants with renewable heat. However, to achieve the latter, a more ambitious waste policy must be delivered in Europe, i.e. replacing landfilling through a combination of recycling (60%) and Waste-to-Energy (40%), as well as increasing energy efficiency through improved infrastructure for heating and cooling, and better grid access for energy from Waste-to-Energy plants.
If unpretreated waste is not landfilled anymore and recycling, as well as efficient energy recovery (Waste-to-Energy), is increased, then around 114 million tonnes CO2 equivalents could be avoided by 2020 in EU-27 [Study by ifeu/Öko-Institut on behalf of UBA/BMU/BDE, „Klimaschutzpotentiale der Abfallwirtschaft“, January 2010]. This calculation is based on household and similar waste, but if commercial waste is taken into account then the amount of avoided CO2 equivalents would be even higher.
In order to move away from Europe’s high dependence on fossil fuels we should explore the cost-effective and available sustainable energy option: Waste-to-Energy.