Achieved Circular Economy Targets Will Leave 40 Million Tonnes Residual Waste Gap in 2035

New peer reviewed Cewep calculations show that 142 million tonnes of residual waste treatment capacity will be needed by 2035 in order to fulfil the currently set EU targets on municipal waste and assuming that ambitious recycling targets will be achieved for commercial and industrial waste.

According to Cewep current Waste-to-Energy capacity is 90 million tonnes and the capacity for co-incineration is approximately 11 million tonnes. This leaves a gap of around 40 million tonnes.

“The transition towards a circular economy is only just beginning. Today, a quarter of the EU’s municipal waste is still landfilled. Less than half of municipal waste is recycled or composted. The new municipal waste recycling targets alone will not solve these issues. European Wasteto-Energy plants are running at full capacity. We will have a residual waste treatment crisis that will result in open fires, illegal shipments and dumping unless we act. I would like to invite the decisionmakers and all other stakeholders for a dialogue on this topic. We need to work together to find the most sustainable solution for this issue”, says Paul De Bruycker, the President of Cewep.

Cewep believes it is crucial to ensure the security of residual waste treatment in order to enable a clean circular economy. Waste-to-Energy contributes to decontamination of the cycle by treating this waste, including:

  • sanitary waste items that need to be treated in a hygienic way;
  • plastics and many other waste streams that contain substances of concern: phthalates, brominated flame retardants, other persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals;
  • rejects from sorting and recycling facilities: parts of the waste that are of lower quality (for example degraded material that has already been recycled several times), dirty or mixed and therefore impossible to recycle;
  • residual waste remaining after separate collection. These waste streams should not be returned to the resources cycle.

The calculation was made by Cewepand peer reviewed by Prognos.


  1. For those countries where residual waste treatment capacity is limited, it is important to note that the circular economy targets are not a goal, but rather a minimum standard required by the EU, and Member States can go beyond these targets to further reduce their amount of residual municipal waste. In some cases co-incineration capacity or overcapacities in other countries could be considered as an option. Finally, waste incineration is not a sustainable option as it tends to lock in waste management systems into burning of resources, which has a growing impact on the climate breakdown. We recommend MRBT as a way to deal with residual waste as it help to further recover recyclables from residual waste and has a lower climate impact.


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