Incineration under EU ETS generates climate benefits and employment

A new study by CE Delft requested by Zero Waste Europe shows that including incineration under the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) would encourage waste prevention and recycling, and generate climate and employment benefits.
Dieter Schütz,

Municipal waste incineration is currently excluded from the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). If incineration is included, waste companies will have to buy emission credits for each tonne of CO2 they emit when treating household, company, and industrial waste. This additional cost of incineration can act as an incentive for waste prevention and recycling, which will then become more competitive (less costly) than incineration.

Moreover, additional jobs will be created since recycling activities are more labour-intensive than waste incineration. From now to 2030, there is the potential for creating more than 14.000 jobs.

The potential impacts of the inclusion were studied in two scenarios: firstly in the fossil scenario when only the fossil CO2 emissions are included (CO2 emissions from e.g., incinerating plastics) and secondly in the case of both fossil and biogenic CO2 emissions (stemming from incinerating food waste) are included under the EU ETS.

Janek Vӓhk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe, says: “The new report shows that the inclusion is a triple win-win situation by benefiting not only the climate but also creating employment and helping Europe to move towards a more circular economy by encouraging waste prevention and recycling”.

The main conclusions of the study are:

  • Inclusion of incineration in EU ETS will encourage recycling activities by households and companies. Since companies have a more direct price incentive if incineration is included under EU ETS, the impacts will be bigger for them (8 to 25% waste reduction) than for households (0.2 to 5% waste reduction).
  • Incineration in EU ETS may reduce CO2 emissions ranging from 2.8 M tonnes per year in 2022 in the fossil scenario up to 8.8 M tonnes per year in the fossil and bio scenario in 2030. Over 90% of the environmental benefits result from Commercial & industrial waste reduction.
  • As recycling activities are more labour-intensive than incineration of waste or landfilling, incineration in EU ETS may result in 6,800 extra jobs in the fossil scenario 2022, up to over 21,000 jobs in the fossil and bio scenario in 2030.
  • To further reinforce the impact of including incineration under the EU ETS, additional policies might be implemented, such as a mandatory recycled content for plastics, introduction of more PAYT (pay as you throw) across municipalities in Europe, more variable tariffs, or cheaper waste bins for separate collection.

ZWE calls on the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to amend the Commission proposal and include municipal waste incinerators, thus making them pay for their emissions.

Read the full report


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