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The management of bio-waste in the European Union

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With a view to limiting greenhouse gases, an optimum management of bio-waste has become necessary. To this end, the European Commission is undertaking an assessment of the management of bio-waste in order to submit a proposal if necessary.

ACT

Green paper from the European Commission on the management of bio-waste in the European Union [COM (2008) 811 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This Green Paper aims to improve the management of bio-waste including waste that is:

  • biodegradable garden or park waste;
  • food or kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers or retail premises;
  • and waste from food processing plants.

It concerns a recent concept in the regulations that makes a distinction between bio-waste and biodegradable waste in the respect that bio-waste does not include paper.

With a view to preparing a future debate on the possibilities of improving the management of this waste, the Green Paper sets out the different types of management in existence, the use by Member States of these different types of management, their impact on the environment, health, employment and the economy as well as the current legal instruments governing these types of management.

Separate collection

This technique consists of collecting kitchen waste with Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Furthermore the calorific value of MSW can be used to produce high quality compost and to facilitate the production of biogas.

The maximum overall capacity of separate collection is estimated at 150 kg/inhabitant/year whereas, at the present time, this capacity is only used at 30%. This technique should be developed in order to generate more compost, which would contribute to land restoration and the recovery of landfill sites. More compost would also be beneficial for agriculture.

However, the optimisation of this system may prove to be difficult in that it would necessitate dramatically altering citizens’ habits.

Landfills

This method is the most used, notably amongst the new Member States, although it is considered as the least appropriate solution in relation to other waste treatment systems.

Landfills have considerable effects on the environment. The decomposition of bio-waste produces methane (greenhouse gas) and generates substances that can contaminate soil and groundwater. Landfills also generate bio-aerosols, odours and are a visual disturbance. Furthermore they take up significant areas that represent an irrecoverable loss of resources and land.

The Directive on the landfill of waste provides a framework for bio-waste treatment. It requires some categories of bio-waste to be excluded from landfilling.

The application of the Directive on the landfill of waste will make this alternative economically less attractive in the future.

Incineration

The incineration of bio-waste is generally carried out along with MSW incineration. This technique may be considered as energy recovery or a disposal operation.

This procedure is very common amongst Member States. The incineration of bio-waste can be carried out using the cogeneration of heat and electricity with flue gas condensation to recover energy.

The incineration of MSW containing biodegradable waste generates greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as dioxins. The Waste incineration Directive at least limits emissions from MSW.

From an economic point of view, incineration requires heavy investment, but allows for economies of scale to be made and does not require changes to the existing MSW collection schemes. This method is profitable, in that it allows for energy recovery.

Biological treatment

This treatment includes composting and anaerobic digestion. Composting can be considered as a form of recycling when the compost is used on lands and crops, whilst anaerobic digestion is a type of energy recovery.

The demand for compost in Europe varies according to soil improvement needs. The European strategy for soil protection should increase the demand for compost. The amended framework directive on waste establishes quality criteria for this.

It is difficult to establish an overall cost for biological treatment techniques due to the diversity of production techniques and markets. However the sale of compost, as well as anaerobic digestion energy recovery can generate revenue.

Comparison of bio-waste management options

The Green Paper underlines the many possible solutions for optimal management of bio-waste. The environmental impact of different treatment systems depends on local factors, such as the management of collections, the composition of waste, climate or the potential usage of derived products.

The advantages of the management system used for this type of waste mainly depend upon:

  • the amount of energy that can be collected,
  • the energy source
  • the amount, quality and use of recycled compost
  • the emission profile of biological treatment plants.

Context

After a period of stabilisation, the volume of bio-waste is likely to increase within the European Union. Policies for the prevention of this type of waste should therefore be strengthened so as to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

In late 2009, the Commission will present, if appropriate, proposals on the management of bio-waste.

Last updated: 02.03.2009
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