The case against incineration

Every year, Europe landfills and burns over €5 billion worth of recyclable materials. Burying and burning our planet's precious resources is neither economically viable nor environmentally sustainable. If these materials were recycled, it would save an estimated 148 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, similar to taking 47 million cars off the road per year.

In many European countries, incineration rates are rising, with energy from waste technologies being billed as an efficient and environmentally friendly option for the treatment of waste.

Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns against incinerating waste for these reasons:

  • Resource efficiency: Incineration wastes valuable resources such as metals, plastics, wood or biodegradable materials that could otherwise be salvaged through recycling. Every tonne of incinerated materials has to be extracted and processed again, increasing environmental damage and the European economy's dependence on expensive imports. More energy is saved through recycling than is extracted by burning most waste.
  • Climate change: Incineration produces greenhouse gas emissions – a typical incinerator converting waste to electricity produces around 33 percent more fossil fuel-derived carbon dioxide than a gas-fired power station. In contrast, recycling saves greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding the need to extract and process primary resources.
  • High recycling rates are possible: The Flanders region of Belgium recycles around 75 percent of its municipal waste, while Austria recycles 70 percent, and Germany 66 percent. In contrast, some countries still recycle less than 10 percent. This shows the need to set high European-wide recycling targets, so that the poor performers catch up.
  • Jobs: Recycling creates jobs. Recycling 10,000 tonnes of waste creates up to 250 jobs, compared to 20 to 40 jobs if the waste is incinerated, and about 10 if it is landfilled.
  • Incineration discourages prevention, reuse and recycling: Incinerators need a large, fixed supply of waste to operate, and are built to run for many years. They therefore create a massive demand for rubbish for many decades, most of which is recyclable. They also discourage efforts to increase recycling and waste prevention and investment in other waste treatment alternatives such as composting.
  • Sound use of EU funds: In central and eastern Europe, the building of incinerators is having adverse effects. The huge cost of building these incinerators means that millions of euros from the EU structural and cohesion funds are being diverted from sorting and recycling schemes, which would have better environmental performance, increase resource efficiency and create more jobs.