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New EU environmental standards for waste incineration

New EU standards will help lower the environmental impact of the waste incineration sector in the EU
New EU standards will help lower the environmental impact of the waste incineration sector in the EU
Dec 04 2019

New emissions, monitoring and efficiency standards will help national authorities to lower the environmental impact of the waste incineration sector in the EU.

This sector represents more than 500 installations and treats around 30 % of the EU's municipal waste as well as other types of waste such as hazardous wastes or sewage sludge.

The new specifications stem from a review of the Best Available Techniques (BAT) Reference Document (BREF) for Waste Incineration.

The review's BAT conclusions were published in the Official Journal of the EU on 3 December 2019.

Beyond their importance to the European waste incineration sector, these BAT conclusions also play an important role in achieving EU environmental and waste management policy goals.

Waste management is an essential part of the EU's transition towards a circular economy and is based on the "waste hierarchy" which sets the order of priority when shaping waste policy and managing waste at the operational level.

Best available techniques – sound technical basis to set permit conditions for installations

The BAT conclusions provide national authorities with a sound technical basis to set permit conditions for industrial installations.

While the principal aim of these BAT conclusions is to reduce emissions from waste incineration including noise and odour, other environmental issues contributing to the circular economy – such as energy efficiency, resource efficiency (water and reagents consumption, recovery of useful materials), are also covered.

The document contains 37 individual BAT conclusions.

Of these:

  • 18 cover general aspects including environmental management and monitoring practices,
  • 11 refer to emissions to air,
  • 3 to emissions to water,
  • 1 to noise,
  • 2 relate to energy efficiency and
  • 2 to material efficiency.

BAT-associated emission levels and energy efficiency levels

The BAT conclusions include BAT-associated emission levels which have the potential, through their translation into emission limits, to drive a sizeable reduction in emissions from the waste incineration sector.

Compared with the existing standards, the new BAT conclusions deliver a reinforced level of protection, with particular emphasis on toxic and persistent organic pollutants such as mercury and polychlorinated dioxins and furans.

The existing waste incineration installations (i.e. those first permitted before the publication of the BAT conclusions) have four years to comply with the new standards.

New installations (i.e. those first permitted after the publication of the BAT conclusions) need to comply immediately with the new requirements.

The BAT conclusions also include BAT-associated energy efficiency levels for the recovery of energy from the incineration of waste.

Emissions to air

For emissions to air, the BAT conclusions address a number of advanced primary and secondary techniques to reduce the emission of pollutants into air.

BAT-associated emission levels are set for mercury and other metals, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated dioxins and furans, and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls.

Important improvements are introduced in monitoring emissions to air, in particular regarding the continuous measurement of mercury and the long-term sampling of polychlorinated dioxins and furans.

Emissions to water

For water, the BAT conclusions focus on techniques to maximise water savings and optimise water consumption, as well as on secondary treatment techniques used to reduce the concentration of pollutants in the effluent.

BAT-associated emission levels are set for pollutants including total organic carbon, total suspended solids, metals (e.g. arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, mercury), polychlorinated dioxins and furans.

Energy efficiency

Regarding energy efficiency, for "waste-to energy plants" (including for instance municipal waste incinerators), BAT-associated energy efficiency levels for energy recovery are expressed in terms of electrical energy or total energy (electricity plus heat) depending on the energy recovery configuration of the plant (plants designed to produce only electricity versus e.g. combined heat and power plants).

For hazardous waste and sewage sludge incinerators, BAT-associated energy efficiency levels for energy recovery are more simply expressed in terms of boiler efficiency.

Best available techniques – background information

The Industrial Emissions Directive provides a framework for regulating about 50 000 industrial installations across the EU.

It requires these installations to hold a permit based on the use of Best Available Techniques.

An EU level process establishes BAT reference documents and BAT conclusions. 

BAT conclusions aim to achieve a high level of protection of the environment as a whole, taking into account economic and technical viability.

They not only cover emission levels and other environmental performance aspects of several (production) techniques, but also include standards on how the technology is used and on which way the installation is designed, built, maintained, operated and decommissioned.

BAT conclusions also address monitoring associated with BAT (monitoring methods and frequency).

The process for production and adoption of BAT Reference Documents and their conclusions is known as the Sevilla process.

/jrc/en/video/sevilla-process-scientific-and-technical-basis-eu-industrial-emissions-legislationSevilla Process: scientific and technical basis for EU industrial emissions legislation

The drafting of the BAT conclusions was led by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) through its European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau (EIPPCB).

It has involved experts from industry, EU public authorities, environmental NGOs and other services of the European Commission.

The European Commission has adopted the revised BAT conclusions for waste incineration after the positive vote of the representatives of the EU Member States in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) Article 75 Committee.

The BAT conclusions for waste incineration are the 15th of a series of Commission Implementing Decisions adopted under the Industrial Emissions Directive.

The EIPPCB is currently reviewing or drawing up BAT reference documents for the following sectors:

  • surface treatment using organic solvents (including wood and wood products preservation with chemicals);
  • ferrous metals processing;
  • textiles;
  • slaughterhouses and animal by-products;
  • smitheries and foundries;  
  • common waste gas treatment in the chemical sector; and
  • ceramics.