CO2 Reduction Potential in European Waste Management

A study, published today, highlights the important contributions by the waste management sector to the EU climate objectives. Building on previous work conducted by Prognos in 2008,  the study accounts for avoided emissions for 10 selected waste streams for EU-27 + UK. Work was performed jointly by research organisations Prognos and CE Delft, on behalf of the European Waste Management Associations: the RDF Industry Group, FEAD, CEWEP, and the Dutch Waste Management Association.

The waste management industry fulfills an important role in making waste available as a secondary resource for material and energy use. The study highlights the important contributions of the sector to key European Union policy objectives by accounting for the net emissions of 10 selected waste streams (paper, glass, plastic, ferrous metals, aluminium, wood, textiles, waste tyres, biowaste, and residual waste/ waste-derived fuel (WDF)).

Potential CO2 emission reductions were examined against the background of recent revisions of the EU waste legislation. The study explores the potential contribution this legislation and the waste management industry could have to reaching the ambition of climate neutrality by 2050 set out in the European Green Deal, as well as the effect of more ambitious targets.

Three scenarios were modelled as follows:

  • Baseline – 2018 “Status Quo”: Net CO2eq emissions from current waste processing.
  • Projection 1 – 2035 (2040) “Implementation of current legislation”: Current waste regulation and recycling targets and municipal waste targets extended to commercial and industrial waste.
  • Projection 2 – 2035 “Potentials”: More ambitious recycling performance and waste that can be recycled or recovered for energy purposes not allocated to landfills.

Key results include:

Status Quo: Adopting a 20-year time horizon, the waste industry is, for the selected waste streams, almost CO2 net neutral today (13 Mt CO2eq). Considering only the selected 9 material waste streams (i.e. excluding residual waste/WDF), the waste industry already avoids 96 Mt CO2eq more than it is producing.

Projections: By successfully applying current waste legislation (Projection 1) by 2035 across the EU27+UK, the CO2 emission avoidance potential is significantly improved to -137 Mt CO2eq,delivering a saving of 150 Mt CO2eq. The savings potential would almost double in the more ambitious Projection 2. The current baseline CO2 net emission burden of 13 Mt CO2eq in the 20-year perspective could drop to -283 MtCO2eq net emission avoidance which results in savings of 296 Mt CO2eq.

Metals Recycling: The current largest net emission savings are achieved by the recycling of the ferrous metal and aluminium waste streams by avoiding significant emissions by the substitution of primary material production.

Landfill Diversion: The study shows how the largest gains are made by reducing landfilling of particularly organic waste materials, such as paper and cardboard and biowastes, achieving a reduction of up to 120 Mt CO2eq. Additional significant potential reductions are provided by energy recovery of residual wastes/WDF.

In conclusion, to realise additional potential and achieve a greater overall reduction, while increasing especially material reuse, further developments are needed. The savings achieved by using secondary raw materials and by the provision of energy will become increasingly important for the achievement of the climate protection goals. In this manner, the waste management industry, including its post-processing usage, will not only be climate-neutral but also make negative contributions to the CO2 emission balance of the EU. To achieve the more ambitious projections, the municipal waste targets need to be extended to industrial and commercial wastes, and waste streams suitable for recycling and energy recovery/ other thermal treatment should be diverted from landfill into these treatment routes.

For the full report: