Zero Waste Europe: Building a bridge strategy for residual waste

Zero Waste Europe​ (ZWE) has released a policy briefing which highlights the importance of defining a new strategy for managing residual waste that corresponds with the requirements of the age of climate emergency that we are living in.

The report defines an approach based on M​aterial Recovery and Biological Treatment​ as a bridge strategy for managing “residuals” within a circular economy.

The current over-reliance on incineration has contributed to a lock-in effect in waste management systems which prevents proper recycling and makes climate change worse. This practice also undermines the efforts of the European Union, which seeks to decarbonise the economies of Member States.

“The current system for dealing with residuals is outdated and broken. Waste incineration destroys vast amounts of resources, requiring the extraction of new primary raw materials, perpetuating a linear economic model and releasing greenhouse gases from fossil based materials such as plastic. This practice contravenes the strategic goals of the Circular Economy Package and the EU goal to become climate neutral by 2050“, says Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Coordinator, Zero Waste Europe.

ZWE proposes a Material Recovery and Biological Treatment (MRBT) system​ that combines biological treatment (to stabilise fermentable materials still included in residual waste) with sorting equipment (to recover materials which were not targeted or captured by separatecollection).​T​his ensures that the negative impacts of residuals are reduced when landfilled, and at the same time keeps the flexibility required to continuously improve the performance of waste management systems.

“​We need MRBT as a “bridge strategy” for residuals while we work on maximising separate collection and reducing waste: the strategy must consider options for managing residual waste aligned with requirements of the EU Landfill Directive, and should minimise the climate impacts; at the same time, it must keep the system adaptable to decreasing amounts of residual waste, and increasing tonnages of clean materials from separate collection, which is and must be kept as, the strategic priority“, Enzo Favoino, Scientific Coordinator of Zero Waste Europe, points out.

Equipped with biological treatment systems, M​RBT sites would also be able to address current and future COVID-19-like situations​ such as biological stabilisation, similar to composting, which is perfectly able to sanitise processed waste, thanks primarily, but not only, to the biogenic heat it releases.

With this in mind, Z​ero Waste Europe calls for a dedicated EU strategy for the management of residual waste​ to align the treatment with the overarching principles and strategic goals of the EU circular economy agenda, specifically including:

  • A European Commission Communication on the (marginal) role of Landfilling in a circular Europe.
  • A definition for a common EU-wide approach for managing residuals that should include the codification of “pre-treatment” and the goals of biological treatment.
  • Compiling an EU-wide survey on technologies that may be used to recover materials from residual waste, and related applications of recovered materials, current initiatives, best practices and biological treatment sites that are already turned into compost sites.
  • Support for the transformation of existing Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) sites into MRBT sites, and further revamping (partial or total, depending on the situation) of both into compost sites and clean Material Recovery Facilities for clean organics and dry recyclables with dedicated funding programmes.

Download the report


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