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Towards a better exploitation of the technical potential of waste-to-energy

The present study describes the state-of-play of incineration and other waste management options for different wastes in the EU, provides an assessment of proven and emerging techniques for increased energy recovery in waste-to-energy processes and concludes with an outlook of possible evolutions in the EU's waste-to-energy landscape. An analysis of statistical data from Eurostat, enhanced with input from various industrial federations, revealed that merely six types of wastes are responsible for the lion's share of energy embedded in all the waste currently sent to incineration and/or landfill. They include in particular household and similar waste as well as sorting residues, which jointly account for nearly four fifths of the energy contained in all landfilled waste, and which together with wood waste comprise almost two thirds of the energy contained in all waste sent for incineration. Techniques for improving energy recovery were discussed for each of the five main categories of waste-to-energy processes: combustion plants, waste incineration plants, cement and lime kilns, anaerobic digestion plants and others. Figures from 2013/2014 showed that the three middle categories accounted together for an estimated total of 676 PJ annual mixed energy outputs from waste. Using the technical options available today, and without taking into account any possible changes to the types and amounts of waste currently sent for energy recovery, this value could be increased by more than a quarter. However, future developments in waste generation and waste management may possibly lead to an increase of energy recovery by incineration for household and similar waste as well as for sorting residues, an increase in energy recovery by anaerobic digestion for animal and vegetal wastes and a decrease of the amounts sent for energy recovery for several other wastes, including source separated wastes such as wood waste.