Waste incineration laws to be strengthened

The European Union is poised, for the first time, to set a limit for dioxin emissions from non-hazardous waste incineration plants.


A European Commission study undertaken four years ago revealed that 40% of EU dioxin emissions came from incineration plants – municipal waste incineration accounting for 25% and clinical waste 15%. Further, the Commission estimates that increased levels of waste and EU restrictions on landfill and the dumping of sewage sludge at sea will result in an increase in municipal waste incineration from 31m tonnes in 1990 to 57m tonnes in 2004. A European Commission draft directive, published last month, proposes limits on dioxins and furans that would cut emissions by 99% by 2005.

The proposed directive is to replace two 1989 Directives on municipal waste incineration, and will increase the range of incinerator emissions covered by EU law. The proposal, which includes limit values for acid gases and heavy metals (especially mercury and cadmium), would effect the burning of industrial wastes, such as oils and solvents, which are not currently covered by the two existing Directives.

This has significant implications for industrial incinerators, including cement kilns, many of which will have to fit expensive end-of-pipe abatement plant to meet the new emission limits. For example, typical incineration plants will have to reduce their dioxin emissions from around 10-30g per year to 0.01-0.06g by 2005. Likewise, emissions of heavy metals will need to be dramatically cut to between 7% (for cadmium) and 20% (for mercury) of current levels.

The Commission has valued the theoretical benefits to society at Ecu210m per year, based on the reduced risk to health. The cost to industry – largely taken to mean the installation of end-of-pipe technology – is estimated to be somewhere in the region of Ecu550m per year.

The incineration of biomass, for example forest or agricultural wastes, which the Commission considers to be relatively clean fuels, is exempted from the proposals.

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