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Environment

Biodegradable waste

Biodegradable waste
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Bio-waste is defined as biodegradable garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises, and comparable waste from food processing plants. It does not include forestry or agricultural residues, manure, sewage sludge, or other biodegradable waste such as natural textiles, paper or processed wood. It also excludes those by-products of food production that never become waste.

Currently the main environmental threat from biowaste (and other biodegradable waste) is the production of methane from such waste decomposing in landfills, which accounted for some 3% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-15 in 1995. The Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) obliges Member States to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that they landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2016 (for some countries by 2020) which will significantly reduce this problem.

Introduction

The Landfill Directive does not prescribe specific treatment options for the diverted waste. The most significant benefits of proper bio-waste management - besides avoided emissions of greenhouse gases - would be the production of good quality compost and bio-gas that contribute to enhanced soil quality and resource efficiency, as well as a higher level of energy self-sufficiency. In practice, however, Member States are often inclined not to opt for composting or bio-gas production, and instead choose the seemingly easiest and cheapest option such as incineration or landfilling and disregarding the actual environmental benefits and costs.

Unquestionably, landfilling is the worst waste management option for bio-waste. However, for the management of biodegradable waste diverted from landfills, there seems to be several environmentally favourable options. While the waste management hierarchy also applies to the management of bio-waste, in specific cases it may be justified to depart from it as the environmental balance of the various options available for the management of this waste depends on a number of local factors, inter alia collection systems, waste composition and quality, climatic conditions, the potential of use of various waste-derived products such as electricity, heat, methane-rich gas or compost. Therefore, national strategies for the management of this waste should be determined in a transparent manner and be based on a structured and comprehensive approach such as Life Cycle Thinking (LCT). In order to assist decision-makers in making the best use of biodegradable waste in line with the waste hierarchy, the Commission has prepared a set of guidelines on how to apply Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Thinking to planning the management of bio-waste. The guidelines are available here.

A number of EU legal instruments address the issue of treatment of bio-waste. General waste management requirements, such as environmental and human health protection during waste treatment and priority for waste recycling, are laid down in the revised Waste Framework Directive which also contains specific bio-waste related elements (new recycling targets for household waste, which can include bio-waste) and a mechanism allowing setting quality criteria for compost (end-of-waste criteria). Landfilling of bio-waste is addressed in the Landfill Directive which requires the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfills. The IPPC Directive (soon to be replaced by the Industrial Emissions Directive) lays down the main principles for the permitting and control of bio-waste treatment installations of a capacity exceeding 50 tonnes/day. The incineration of bio-waste is regulated in the Waste Incineration Directive, while the health rules for composting and biogas plants which treat animal by-products are laid down in the Animal By-products Regulation.

The details concerning current Commission works concerning further regulation and guidelines for the management of bio-waste, as well as studies on this subject, can be found in the section "Developments".

Developments

Following the provision of Thematic Strategy on Prevention and Recycling of Waste (COM 2005 (666) final) concerning need to address compost standards at EU level and responding to the call made in art. 22 of Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) requesting the Commission to carry out an assessment on the management of bio-waste with a view to submitting a proposal if appropriate the Commission started preparatory work on potential legislative proposal on bio-waste.

Project steps

1. Green Paper

The first step in that process is the Green Paper on the Management of Bio-waste in the EU.

2. Impact Assessment

The second step is the preparation of an Impact Assessment of a potential legislative proposal. The general objective of this activity is to look into ways of improving the way in which bio-waste is managed in the EU, and to provide an appropriate assessment of policy options, including the environmental, economic and social impacts, as well as prospective risks/opportunities.

The task include among others:

  • Provision of analysis and synthesis of other consultations, studies and an overview of the state-of-the-art knowledge as a contribution to the impact assessment;
  • Estimation of the production of Biowaste and their possible treatment on the basis of existing legislation;
  • Support to an overall assessment of policy options and their relative merits.

The assessment will include a baseline scenario in terms of policies and practices across the EU over the next 10 years and their possible implications on the production and treatment of bio-waste for each Member States and at EU 27 level. Based on the baseline scenario, an assessment will be undertaken of the likely benefits and costs of additional or changed policy measures on the management of bio-waste in the EU (including for instance an obligation of separate collection or recycling targets for bio-waste) when compared to the existing and planned policies. The assessment shall verify if the current policy measures are sufficient to address the issue of proper bio-waste management and whether additional measures on bio-waste management would deliver significant improvements.

This assessment will build on the existing studies and knowledge and fill any identified knowledge and data gaps in order to provide a full picture of the current situation and the future needs.

It is currently expected that the additional measures to be assessed will include the options already proposed in "Preliminary Impact Assessment for an Initiative on the Biological Treatment of Biodegradable Waste" (see "studies" below) i.e.

a) setting compost standards;

b) setting compost standards and recycling target for bio-waste (common to all Member States);

c) compost standards and recycling targets to be set for individual Member States

and an additional fourth measure, to be determined.

The final set of options to be assessed shall be based on the results of the Green Paper consultations and the present preparatory work of the project team.

Study supporting the Impact Assessment:

During preparation of Impact Assessment the Commission has been assisted by ARCADIS Belgium and Eunomia Research & Consulting, which have produced report "Assessment of the options to improve the management of bio-waste in the EU".

3. Communication from the Commission on future steps in bio-waste management in the European Union - COM(2010)235 final

On 18 May 2010, the Commission published a Communication on its analysis of the bio-waste management options and possible future steps in this area.

The text of the Communication can be found here, accompanied by an annex providing more detailed analysis of the current situation and scenarios in bio-waste management (Press release).

4. Follow-up of the Communication

  • Analysis on the appropriateness of setting targets for bio-waste recycling - stakeholder consultations.

  • Assessment of feasibility of setting bio-waste recycling targets in EU, including subsidiarity aspects - final report.

5. Revision of the Waste Framework Directive

As described in the Communication (chapter - 7.1.2. Treatment of Bio-waste) the Commission promised to continue the analysis of appropriateness of proposing in 2014 targets on recycling of bio-waste as a part of revision Waste Framework Directive, with a view that target for biological treatment would have to go hand-in-hand with enhanced separate collection to ensure good quality of compost and digestate.

On 2 July 2014, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal and annex to review waste related targets in the Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC as well as recycling and other waste-related targets in the EU Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC.

The main elements of the proposal relating to bio-waste include:

  • Recycling and preparing for re-use of municipal waste (including bio-waste) to be increased to 70 % by 2030;
  • Phasing out landfilling by 2025 for recyclable (including plastics, paper, metals, glass and bio-waste) waste in non hazardous waste landfills – corresponding to a maximum landfilling rate of 25%;
  • Measures aimed at reducing food waste generation by 30 % by 2025;
  • Introduction of separate collection of bio-waste

More information about the initiative, including text of legal proposal and background documents can be found here.

Background information

Preparation of guidance on biowaste management

As foreseen in Communication COM(2005)666 on the Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste the Commission is preparing guidelines addressed to policy makers on the application of life cycle thinking to biowaste management policies.

Updated information can be found at the JRC website devoted to the European life cycle thinking guidelines for the management of municipal biodegradable waste.

Studies