Separate collection of waste and markets for recycled products are key to composting success

The European Environment Agency has released advice for countries needing to increase their diversion of biodegradable waste away from landfill, in line with Europe’s Landfill Directive, which requires that by 2016, landfilled waste should be 35% of the 1995 total.

The report, Biodegradable Municipal Waste Management in Europe, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA), highlights the success stories of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) management. The EEA has identified a number of practices that are common to regions that successfully divert large quantities of BMW from landfill, specifically, a combination of separate waste collection, thermal treatment – although this is mainly in the form of incineration, and centralised composting and material recycling. The availability of adequate markets for the materials collected is also of key importance for success.

“The experience of countries and regions that have succeeded in diverting large quantities of BMW away from landfill strongly suggests that an integrated package of options is needed at national level to achieve high diversion rates,” says the report.

According to the report, the volume of landfill of BMW varies considerably across Europe. Some countries, such as Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands, have already reduced their reliance on landfill to the point that the targets set by the Directive have effectively been met. Others, however, such as Italy, the UK and Ireland, still send most of their BMW to landfill and have a long way to go to reach their targets.

Important nationwide strategies include taxation and other restrictions on landfilling and incineration of specific waste streams, says the EEA. Whilst some countries have adopted or are considering outright bans on the landfilling of the entire biodegradable fraction of municipal waste, others have introduced taxes that increase the cost of landfilling, making recovery options more economically viable. However, the optimum approach may be a combination of progressive restrictions together with taxation that increases the cost of landfilling to the point where it is no longer financially attractive.

Currently, there are three main options for the disposal of BMW diverted from landfill. These are incineration with energy recovery, central composting – mainly of garden waste, and to a lesser extent, food waste, and material recycling – mainly cardboard and paper waste. However, there are also a number of emerging technologies, such as gasification and thermolysis, which may also play a role in national strategies.

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