The EU policy favouring waste incineration is unwarranted


12 Oct 2021


EU needs to reform the current incineration heavy residual waste policy to make it fit for a circular and carbon-free future

BRUSSELS, 12 October 2021

New research published today by Zero Waste Europe finds that a radical improvement of the EU residual waste policy is needed in order to make it fit for a circular, carbon-free economy.

The in-depth analysis of the state of affairs of EU residual waste policy shows that the current policy favouring incineration as a way for dealing with residual waste is unwarranted. The study done by Equanimator Ltd. emphasises the lack of unequivocal evidence in support of the current state of affairs, referring to evidence from various studies, including some funded by the European Commission.

The study warns of the impacts of the current incineration heavy strategy for managing residual waste on the potential for moving waste further up the hierarchy, into prevention and recycling. It also highlights the incompatibility of the current EU residual waste strategy with the climate agenda.

The report states that EU policy should reflect new knowledge and evidence, and not be based on a dogmatic view regarding one or another technology. It stresses the importance of recognising the improvements that can be made to managing residual waste in ways that are consistent with the EU Green Deal.

Janek Vahk: “The prime focus of the EU policy as regards residual waste should be on reduction of waste and emissions. As of today it focuses on moving waste from landfill into incineration without any justifiable backing. Unless reversed, the current bias for incineration will play against the Circular Economy and EU’s efforts to fight climate change.”

With this in mind, Zero Waste Europe calls for a package of measures to ensure a sound management of residual waste and to support the ambition of the Green Deal. These include:

  • Elaborating a clear definition of ‘treatment’ to define this as ‘treatment of waste prior to landfilling’.
  • Acknowledging, in the Landfill Directive, that waste which has been treated is to be regarded as ‘no longer biodegradable’.
  • Removing the R1 formula in Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive so that municipal waste incineration is no longer able to be classified as ‘recovery’.
  • Amending the municipal waste landfill minimisation target from the current 10% landfill target by 2035 to a target of 0% of municipal waste landfilled without prior treatment.
  • Mandating the use of mixed waste sorting systems of a defined quality at the front of all new incineration plants, and those which have been operational for less than ten years.
  • Establishing a target to reduce residual municipal waste to less than 175kg/inh, to be achieved on the same schedule as the existing Waste Framework Directive recycling targets.
  • Including incineration facilities within the EU-ETS as a means to encourage progress in the quality of sorting systems for removing plastics from the mixed waste.

These policy changes will significantly improve the climate change emissions associated with the management of waste, and ensure better alignment between planning and the project  fostering a more Circular Economy.

The launch of the report is accompanied by an event “Making the EU residual waste policy fit for a circular Economy” on 12th  October, 14:45– 16:00 (registration here).

Link to the report: here



Press Contacts

Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe

[email protected]  +32 493553779

Berta Corredor, Press Officer at Zero Waste Europe

[email protected]  +32 471965593


About Zero Waste Europe 
Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) is the European network of communities, organisations, local leaders, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society. It advocates for sustainable systems and the redesign of our relationship with resources, to accelerate a just transition towards zero waste for the benefit of people and the planet. Created in 2014, the ZWE network now includes 32 members from 28 European countries and works with topics across the whole chain.