CEWEP has hit back at a recent report which claimed that there is not much difference between landfill and incineration from a climate perspective, and said that it is a dangerous message ahead of COP21.

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The Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) has hit back at a recent report which claimed that there is not much difference between landfill and incineration from a climate perspective, and said that it is a dangerous message ahead of COP21 – particularly from a global perspective.

CEWEP said that the report, produced by consultancy Eunomia on behalf of Zero Waste Europe (see WMW Story), ignored the fact that incineration with high efficiency energy recovery at modern waste to energy plants is higher up the waste hierarchy than landfilling.

The organisation also cited scientific research, Waste to Energy: The Carbon Perspective, which found that: “With efficient electricity and heat recovery waste to energy plants contribute significantly to reducing the climate impacts of modern waste management and appear much more climate friendly than when the waste is disposed of in landfills.”

According to the Confederation, the basis for Eunomia’s report can be found in its Technical Annex. It  added that “unfortunately, the methodology followed is not reported in a transparent way.”

Specifically the organisation said that critical parameters such as the energy substitution for landfill produced electricity are nowhere to be found. On the other hand however, CEWEP said that assumptions laid down for the Waste-to-Energy (WtE) performance create a clear underestimation of the climate benefits, e.g. consideration of electricity-only plants while the vast majority of European WtE plants generate Combined Heat and Power, and exclusion of benefits of metal recycling from WtE’s bottom ash.

CEWEP went on to note that a 2014 report from the UK governments Department for Environment, Farming & Rural Afffairs (Defra), with similar assumptions and quoted in the Eunomia report, showed very different results.

The calculations based on natural gas substitution (even considering electricity-only WtE plants and landfills with a very optimistic gas capture of 75%) were noted to conclude that whenever electricity-only WtE plants have a higher energy efficiency than 11%, they always provide a better carbon performance than very efficient landfills.

CEWEP said: “It appears that the authors of the consultancy report played with simplified modelling tools to justify political conclusions that had been drawn beforehand. CEWEP is concerned that the consultancy report could encourage countries, which landfill large amounts of waste, to simply continue landfilling. This is even more of a concern for countries outside Europe, sometimes lacking application of adequate landfilling standards, i.e. sufficient groundwater protection and landfill gas capture.”

The Confederation also noted that scientific studies that have been proven to apply good practices in similar assessments, suggest that “Diversion from landfill is the main contributor to GHG mitigation in the waste management sector”.

CEWEP concluded:

“It is clear about the additional benefits of landfill diversion policy: apart from Greenhouse gas mitigation, landfill minimisation is crucially important for environmental and health reasons: avoiding groundwater pollution through potential leachate, loss of land and preventing microplastics from being blown by the wind from (legal and illegal) landfills into the seas or rivers.

“The EU has well-founded scientifically-based arguments for its policy to divert waste from landfills as much as possible. And the rest of the world should be encouraged to introduce similar policies for climate protection and for a better use of our resources.”

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