Waste Management in Europe
Municipal waste treatment includes several operations: recycling, composting/digestion, landfilling, and incineration with and without energy recovery. In this context, energy recovery can be achieved through waste incineration; advanced thermal treatment (gasification and pyrolysis) or anaerobic digestion of biodegradable waste . In Europe, energy recovery from waste is dominated by the combustion (incineration) technologies mostly based on moving grate and stoker boiler incinerator for heat and/or power production .
More than 2400 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste have been generated in the EU from various economic activities, with additional 96 million tonnes of hazardous waste in 2015 .
Excluding major mineral wastes, 832 million tonnes of waste were generated in 2014, equivalent to 35% of the total generated waste. Apart for construction waste (852 million tonnes) and mining and quarrying waste (690 million tonnes), the highest levels of waste generation were recorded for manufacturing waste (232 million tonnes), water and waste management (210 million tonnes) and household waste (204 million tonnes).
The generation of waste from water and waste services increased by 90% between 2004 and 2014 and the quantity of waste generated from construction grew by 58%. At the same period, waste generated (excluding major mineral waste) by households remained quite stable while waste originated from manufacturing and mining/quarrying activities fell by 34 and 24%, respectively. Figure 1a shows the evolution of selected waste generation in the EU.
There are considerable variations across EU Member States in the activities that contributed to the amount of generated waste and their respective shares, reflected mainly by different economic structures, management and collection systems, and country sizes. The overall amount of generated waste is related to the population and economic size of a country. High amounts of waste are related to mineral waste production from mining activities, counting for about two-thirds of the total generated waste in the EU-28. Large differences between EU Member States can be observed in the generation of various wastes, including household and similar waste, animal and vegetal waste, and wood or mixed waste (Fig. 1b).
Biowaste represents a special category of waste. According to the WFD 2008/98/CE, biowaste includes organic waste from gardens and parks, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and distribution networks, and comparable waste from food-processing plants. Biodegradable waste also covers other biodegradables such as wood, paper, paperboard, and sludge. If landfilled, it can produce significant environmental and climate adverse impacts due to the potential of GHG emissions. Table 2 shows the amount of biodegradable waste generated in Europe in 2014.
In 2014, 2248 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste were treated in the EU . Almost 44% of it was subject to disposal operations (landfilling), 36% was sent to recovery operations for recycling, and just over 10% was sent to backfilling in excavated areas for the purpose of land reclamation. Only 6% of the waste was sent for incineration, either for incineration alone or with energy recovery. Waste disposal dominates in several countries with about 90% of the waste being sent to landfills (Bulgaria, Romania and Greece), while waste recovery dominates other countries (such as in Belgium, Italy and Denmark). Waste incineration is a widespread option in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany, with a significant share in the waste treatment options observed.
The amount of MSW generated in 2015 reached 243 million tonnes in the EU and 255 million tonnes in the European counties considered in this study , representing around 10% of the total generated waste. Each person produced, on average, almost half of tonne of waste per year (472 kg per person in 2005 and 477 kg per person in 2015). In 2015, the highest amount of MSW per capita was produced in Denmark (789 kg per person), followed by Switzerland, Cyprus and Germany. In contract, Romania (286 kg per person) generated the lowest amount of MSW per capita, preceded by Poland and Czech Republic. The variations reflect differences in consumption patterns and economic conditions.
The amount of waste generated in the EU remained at about the same level between 1995 and 2015, with some variation during this period. However, in the same period was not observed uniform trends in MSW generation across countries, with increase trends in 21 countries and decrease trends in ten countries (Fig. 2a) .
Among different MSW treatment options, waste recycling has become the first treatment option at EU level with 69 million tonnes, followed by incineration (with or without energy recovery) with 64 million tonnes, landfilling with 62 million tonnes and composting with 40 million tonnes (Table 3). Major MSW producers are Germany with 51 million tonnes, France with 33 million tonnes, UK with 32 million tonnes and Italy with 30 million tonnes. With respect to incineration, Germany is the leading country with 16 million tonnes, followed by France with 12 million tonnes and UK with 10 million tonnes. Large amounts of waste with no other uses are landfilled every year, mostly in Spain (11 million tonnes), France (9 million tonnes) and Italy (8 million tonnes).
The Directive 31/1999 on landfill requiring Member States to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills has led to significant changes in the management system to avoid landfilling through increased recycling, use of composting (including fermentation) or incineration (Fig. 2b). The progress made in increasing the total recycling rate is mainly due to the fact that many countries have increased the recycling of materials such as glass, paper and cardboard, metals, plastic and textiles . As a result, the amount of waste recycled grew in the EU from 25.0 million tonnes (52 kg per capita) in 1995 to 69 million tonnes (137 kg per capita) in 2015.
Waste incineration has also grown steadily in this period. The amount of MSW incinerated in the EU has increased from 32 million tonnes (67 kg per capita) in 1995 to 64 million tonnes (128 kg per capita) in 2015. Thus, the total amount of MSW landfilled in the EU fell by 84 million tonnes, or 58%, from 146 million tonnes (302 kg per capita) to 62 million tonnes (120 kg per capita) in the same period. As a result, the landfilling rate compared with MSW generation dropped from 64.2 to 25.6% in the EU, and from 63.5 to 25.8% in the EEA member countries for the period 1995–2015. In Fig. 2a, the ‘other treatment’ category was calculated as the difference between the amounts of treated waste and generated waste. This difference arises in countries that have to estimate waste generation in areas not covered by a municipal waste collection scheme and thus report more generated waste than treated waste.
Despite significant improvements in waste management performance, significant differences in municipal waste management performance among countries could be observed . Figure 3a presents detailed information on the type of waste treatment operations that were employed in various countries in 2015. In Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, or Norway, practically no MSW is sent to landfill. On the other hand, Malta, Greece and Croatia still landfill > 80% of their generated MSW. Some Member States had very high recycling rates (e.g. Italy, Belgium and Denmark), indicating recycling waste as one of key resources, while in others most of the waste was disposed in landfills (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania and Greece) [14, 15]. The amount of MSW landfilled in 2015 ranged from 1.3 kg/person in Germany, 3.6 kg/person in Sweden and 3.8 kg/person in Belgium to 415 kg/person in Greece, 476 kg/person in Cyprus and 561 kg/person in Malta, with an average of 119 kg/person in EEA countries [13, 15]. Most countries reduced landfilling in the period 1995–2015 with six countries increasing the amount of waste sent to landfills.
The changes in the treatment operations of MSW between 1995 and 2015 at EU level are shown in Fig. 3b. A significant decrease in the shares of waste landfilling could be noticed, complemented by the increased shares of recycling, composting and incineration. Thus, the share of MSW recycled increased from 11 to 29% between 1995 and 2015. Recycling and composting together accounted for 45% in 2015 relative to waste generation, in comparison to 17.5% in 1995. This change can also be observed with respect to the significant rise in the use of incineration with energy recovery (R1) as compared to incineration without energy recovery (D10).
Energy Recovery from Waste in Europe
Primary Energy Production from MSW
Bioenergy is the largest source of renewable energy today in the EU, providing heat, electricity and transport fuels. Despite high growth rates in the solar and wind sectors, bioenergy is expected to remain, at EU level, the major renewable energy source until 2030, when it could reach a share of 60–70% of renewable energy, which represents 16–19% of bioenergy in the final energy supply and a bioenergy contribution of about 7.2–8.6 EJ (173–205 Mtoe). In a short term (until 2020), biomass is expected to provide 5.8 EJ (140 Mtoe) of energy, which represents a share of about 60% of the renewable energy and 12% of the final energy use in the EU .
Biomass availability and the sustainability issues are major concerns for bioenergy deployment. The use of waste and residues for energy production could have a major role in covering biomass demand, with lowest impact on environment, GHG emissions, land use/land use change or competition between the alternative uses of biomass.
As result of the waste and renewable energy legislation, significant increase in the energy generation from the renewable MSW has been achieved. Statistical evidence shows that primary energy supply increased from 111 PJ (2.7 Mtoe) in 1995 to 252 PJ (6.0 Mtoe) in 2005 and 406 PJ (9.7 Mtoe) in 2015 (Fig. 4). Due to strong development in bioenergy sector, the contribution of renewable waste to bioenergy production increased from 5.1% in 1995 to 7.2% in 2015 .
Energy production from waste in 2015 showed significant differences between EU Member States. Germany was the leading country with 125 PJ (3.0 Mtoe), followed by France with 51 PJ (1.2 Mtoe), Netherlands with 41 PJ (1.0 Mtoe), and Sweden with 38 PJ (0.9 Mtoe) (Fig. 5a). The highest share of renewable waste contribution to bioenergy production was registered in 2015 in the Netherlands (35%), followed by Norway (17.5%), Cyprus (16.5%) and Denmark (15.1%). However, at the same time, 18 out of 31 EEA countries had a share below 5% in bioenergy production from waste resources .
Energy recovery from renewable MSW is directed in the EU mainly toward electricity generation, in combined heat and power (CHP) or electricity only plants. In this context, heat plants represent only 13% of the capacity of energy generation from waste. Electricity generation and electricity capacity of waste plants in 2015 showed significant differences between EU Member States (Fig. 5b). Germany was the leading country in terms of electricity capacity in WtE plants, with 1925 MW, followed by UK with 925 MW, Sweden with 876 MW, and Italy with 830 MW (Fig. 5b). Electricity generation from waste was the highest in Germany with 5768 GWh, followed UK with 2782 GWh, Italy with 2344 GWh, France with 1999 GWh, and the Netherlands with 1997 GWh.
Trade of Waste for Incineration
The analysis of the waste incineration capacities requires the consideration of the imports and exports of waste for incineration. In the EU, the transboundary shipments of waste are regulated by Regulation 1013/2006 on shipments of waste (the Waste Shipment Regulation WShipR), implementing the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. According to the Basel Convention, the contract parties should transmit annual reports containing information on the category and disposal method of traded waste [15, 20].
In order to analyse the waste incineration capacities and to have an indication on how much of the incineration capacities is fed with waste from import operations, the waste trade flows were assessed. The amount of waste streams undergoing incineration with energy recovery (R1) and without energy recovery (D10) has been included in the analysis.
Two categories of waste are relevant for this study: residues arising from industrial waste disposal operations (Y18), and wastes collected from households (Y46). Waste streams classified as Y18 covers waste from various sources (e.g. MSW and industrial waste) with no distinct classification among categories, creating an uncertainty about the share of MSW in the total waste flow. In contrast, streams classified as Y46 consist of waste from households, which represents a share of the MSW.
The trade flows of household waste (which is a part of MSW) for incineration (R1 and D10) in Europe is shown in Fig. 6 for 2012 and 2014. The main source countries as well as destination countries are visible. Few countries were involved in the waste trade. Especially the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany imported high amounts of waste for incineration over the years, with some exporting countries including the UK, Norway and the Netherlands. This trade flows were related to the existing waste incineration capacities and different economic conditions for waste incineration (Fig. 7).
The analysis of household waste trade flows for incineration shows a quite complex picture. The results show that the trade of household waste for incineration in the EU involves a limited number of countries. Imported waste is used in available incineration plants in countries with high plant capacities. The evolution of net trade of household waste for incineration in the EU has an upgrade trend, but amounts vary largely over time and between countries, as depicted in Fig. 7. The variation over time is particularly significant for the countries with large volumes of waste trade.
Waste Incineration Capacities
The data for MSW incineration show that in the EEA countries, 27% of MSW generated in 2015 was incinerated in D10 and R1 plants. A number of 18 countries have an incineration capacity of less than a quarter of their generated MSW, of which 10 countries have no incineration capacities; in some cases they have high share of waste going to landfills. Table 4 shows the comparison of the generation and incineration of MSW with energy recovery (R1) and without energy recovery (D1) as well as the capacity of the waste incineration plants across the European countries.
Germany and France have the largest capacities for MSW incineration, with 24 million tonnes and 16 million tonnes, respectively. Several countries, such as Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Austria, have significant large capacity in comparison to their MSW generated amount. In countries with high capacities compared with generated MSW, the risk of incineration competing with recycling needs to be managed accordingly .
Countries with a much higher share of incineration capacities use their capacities with non-municipal waste (e.g. refuse derived fuel, packaging waste, waste wood, etc.) or MSW from imports. In addition, the internal trade of waste within Europe has to be considered in order to have the real picture of the waste incineration in different countries.
A survey of existing WtE plants has been performed to identify the capacity, type of plants and location, using several sources. For further data gathering, comprehensive internet research (e.g. on national webpages or webpages from plant operators) was done and provided the appropriate capacity and plant type data. Data was analysed and visualised, providing an overview of the incineration situation in Europe.
The waste to energy plants are dedicated plants for incineration of mixed MSW, but these plants could use other types of waste, such as wood waste, Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), etc. The available data on the plants does not provide a complete overview of how much non-MSW is incinerated in MSW dedicated WtE plants.
The results of this analysis show that there were 512 WtE plants in Europe in 2016, with 251 plants generating CHP, 161 generating electricity only, and 94 generating heat only. There is no precise information about the plant type for the remaining 6 plants. The total incineration capacity was estimated at 93 million tonnes in 2016 [12, 19, 20, 22, 23]. Detailed information of the type of waste to energy plants (CHP, electricity only or heat only) as well as the capacity and number of plants are shown in Table 1.
Although Germany has a higher waste incineration capacity than France in 98 plants, France has the largest number of WtE (121). While the European average waste incineration capacity is about 170,000 tonnes waste per year, in some countries (such as Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary, Spain or Austria) very large WtE plants (above 400,000 tonnes per year) are common, while in other countries (Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, France) smaller plants (80,000–120,000 tonnes per year) are more common.
Energy Potential of Waste and Perspectives for Energy Recovery
The analysis of the energy potential of waste included the investigation of waste management practices in European countries and the estimation of the amounts of waste which could be available for this purpose, after various options were applied according to waste hierarchy. This evaluation considered the spatial location of the waste generation, the various treatment options applied and the current waste incineration in existing WtE plants.
Figure 8 shows the spatial distribution of MSW generated in Europe, developed on the basis of waste generation data and spatial distribution of population.
Figure 9 shows the potential location of the new energy plants, together with the spatial location of existing waste incineration plants in Europe. Every single plant is marked with a point on the map, the specific capacity per year is marked with circles with varying sizes depending on the capacity. The colours represent the type of the plant (CHP, electricity only, heat only or no info available). At present, there are no incineration plants several countries, such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovenia.
The results of WtE suitability analysis, grouped by national level (Table 5), show that the MSW resources are underexploited for energy production in most of the European countries. There is a potential to implement around 248 new WtE plants in the EU, with a total capacity of 37 million tonnes. On the other hand, some countries, such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, are already using this resource at maximum extent, with little room for further expansion of the waste to energy plants. In Europe, 330 new WtE plants could be built to recover energy from waste, with a total capacity of about 50 million tonnes and an average capacity of about 150,000 tonnes. The construction of new WtE plants would contribute to the decrease of the waste landfilling, to the generation of renewable energy and decrease of GHG emissions from landfills and from the replacement of fossil fuels. The priority should be however given to waste recycling and recovery, the competition between waste incineration and recycling and recovery should be avoided and the risk of diversion of waste toward incineration instead of recycling and recovery has to be taken into account when deciding on the building of a WtE plant.
The new WtE plants would imply an additional primary energy production of 260 PJ (6.2 Mtoe) in the EU (contribution of waste to bioenergy production increasing from 7.2 to 11.8%) and about 352 PJ (8.4 Mtoe) in all European countries considered.