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EU recyclers warn against EfW subsidies

A coalition of European recycling and environmental associations has called on the European Parliament to rule out subsidies for energy-from-waste (EfW) plants following concerns that they discourage separate food waste collections.

Negotiations about amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive are currently underway. It establishes a target for the EU to generate at least 35% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

A letter to European Parliament negotiators and the Bulgarian energy minister – Bulgaria currently holds the EU presidency – warned against providing subsidies for EfW schemes using mixed waste. The letter was signed by groups including Zero Waste Europe, Plastics Recyclers Europe and the Confederation of European Paper Industries.

It read: “This is important for our coalition as the support schemes for mixed waste have distorted waste markets and thus discourage the separate collection of organics and other recyclables that do not receive subsidies.”

A spokesperson for the Renewable Energy Association told MRW: ”Traditional energy recovery facilities in the UK cannot currently access Government subsidy and we encourage the focus being placed on supporting greater recycling rates through separate collections, particularly in regards to food waste. 

“However, it should be recognises that advanced conversion technologies, like gasification and pyrolysis, have the potential to significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of other sectors like transport and heat.

”Government should continue to show support for these advanced technologies to establish supply chains and realise this potential in the UK and across Europe.”

A spokesperson for the Environmental Services Association said: ”EfW is currently the greenest option for dealing with our combustible residual waste, after economically recyclable materials have been collected.

“Overall carbon emissions from EfW are 200kg of CO₂e lower than from landfill, and can play a role in helping the UK to achieve its target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

”Only the biogenic portion of the waste going to EfW plants is classified as renewable, which is similar to other technologies that extract energy from organic material such as biomass or anaerobic digestion.

”And the EU countries with the highest recycling rates such as Germany and the Netherlands combine it with high levels of EfW for the residual fraction. The situation in the UK is also different from other parts of Europe since we are facing a potential residual waste treatment capacity gap as landfill sites are closing.”

Under the circular economy package, EU member states will be required to establish separate food waste collections.

UK subsidies for EfW are available in some instances through the Contracts for Difference (CfW) mechanism, which establishes a set price for electricity generated from renewable sources.

Renewi also recently gained approval for Renewable Obligation Certificates, another subsidy mechanism, for its gasification plant in Derbyshire.

The recast Renewable Energy Directive includes measures to boost heat networks, which have proved to be a struggle for the UK’s EfW sector.

According to a report by consultancy Tolvik published last year, future UK EfW plants will either be advanced conversion technology facilities such as gasification benefitting from subsidy support or larger scale plants based on conventional technologies.

Comment: Keith Riley, partner at consul­tancy EnergyGap

From a UK perspective, the classification of energy from the thermal treatment of mixed wastes as renewable brings very little if any subsidy or financial benefit anyway. The only sources of subsidy available to EfW today in the UK are from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) or the CfD.

There are few plants that benefit from RHI because the heat infrastructure is so difficult to develop, and the CfD is confined to a relatively few ACT gasification plants. There is an argument that distributed heat is something worthy of subsidy regardless of the source of that heat and the CfD is aimed more at technology development than anything else and does not impact waste policy in any significant way.

So all in all, I think it makes no difference in this country, as we are already almost subsidy free - and that is a healthy place to be because subsidies distort markets and can create artificial business environments.

  • This article was updated on 10 May to include a comment from the REA and on 11 May to include comment from Keith Riley


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