Waste-to-Energy fulfils a number of different yet important roles:
Firstly it helps reach the targets set in the EU Landfill Directive that aims to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste being landfilled. The deadline for reducing landfilling by 50% was in July 2009and European Member States that miss these targets face hefty fines.
By treating household and similar waste that remains after waste prevention and recycling Waste-to-Energy plants help avoid the methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG), that would have been created if the waste was landfilled.
Waste-to-Energy and Recycling are complementary waste treatment methods. Household and similar waste should be sorted at source and the clean materials should be sent to high quality recycling. The remaining waste, that cannot be recycled in a technically or economically viable way, should be used to generate energy. In order to divert waste from landfill both Recycling and Waste-to-Energy should be part of a “joined up thinking” approach to sustainable waste management.
The energy produced in Waste-to-Energy plants also contributes to climate protection and security of energy supply, by replacing fossil fuels that would have been used to produce this energy in conventional power plants.
A significant part of the waste treated in Waste-to-Energy plants is biogenic – biomass – which means that about half of the energy produced by Waste-to-Energy plants is renewable energy. This is also the case when bio-waste is separated at source, as there is still a significant amount of biogenic waste which is too polluted for high quality composting.
Member States who landfilled more than 80% of their municipal waste in 1995 could apply for derogation on the application of the Landfill Directive by up to 4 years: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. For these Member States the deadlines are 50% by 2013 and 65% by 2020.