Here are some answers to the most frequent questions about waste-to-energy

What is waste-to-energy incineration?

Waste-to-Energy facilities treat household and similar waste that could not be prevented or recycled. Through the thermal treatment process, the facilities recovery energy from the waste. This can be in the form of steam, electricity or hot water. The electricity is fed into the grid and distributed to the end-users; the hot water, depending on local infrastructure can be sent to a nearby district heating (or cooling) network to heat (or cool) homes, hospitals, offices etc., and the steam can be used by the nearby industry in their production processes. WtE is a hygienic method of treating waste, reducing its volume by about 90%. WtE facilities are clean and safe, meeting the most strict emission limit values set out in the EU Industrial Emissions Directive.

What is the role of waste-to-energy?

It transforms non-recyclable waste into energy and enables the recovery of metals and minerals from bottom ash in an environmentally safe manner. By diverting waste from landfill, WtE assists the State in meeting Landfill Directive targets. This aims to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled. WtE and recycling are complementary waste treatment methods in integrated waste management systems. Household and similar waste should be sorted at source and the clean materials should be sent to high quality recycling. The remaining waste, that cannot be recycled in a technically or economically viable way, can be used to generate energy. It deals with unwanted, unrecyclable components in the material cycles and acts as a sink for pollutants.

Aren't waste prevention and recycling by far better?

The waste-to-energy (WtE) process (waste incineration with energy recovery) which falls within the recovery tier of the waste hierarchy and actively supports circular economy objectives and recycling by diverting non-recyclable residual waste from landfill, recovering valuable energy from the same and by treating residual waste that remains from the separation of material for recycling. 

It is compatible with high levels of recycling and it is worth noting that even in Member State regions such as the Flemish region of Flanders which has been at the forefront of recycling and where circa 70% of its municipal waste (MW) is recycled each year, there still remains circa 50% biodegradable municipal waste (BWM) and up to a 30% fraction still requiring treatment thereafter. 

The WtE process also fulfils a crucial sanitary function for society and the environment by treating contaminated and unavoidable residual waste that cannot be recycled in an environmentally sound manner, thus avoiding the need for landfill and detrimental impacts on land, air and groundwater quality.