CO2 reduction potential in European waste management

This study, building on the previous study (2008), sheds light on the waste management industry’s treatment volumes and associated CO2 emissions of selected waste streams.

The study examines the greenhouse gas emissions and avoided emissions of waste treatment in the EU, for 10 selected waste streams in the EU27+UK, based on available statistical data. Waste treatment routes are recycling, incineration with energy recovery, co-incineration, and landfilling. Three scenarios were defined:

  1. Baseline – 2018 ”Status Quo”: net CO2eq emissions from current waste processing in the EU27+ UK in 2018.
  2. Projection 1 – 2035 (2040) “Implementation of current legislation”: current waste regulations and recycling targets + municipal waste targets extended to commercial & industrial waste.
  3. Projection 2 – 2035 “Potentials”: even more ambitious recycling performance + waste that can be recycled or recovered for energy purposes not allocated to landfills.

The study was conducted by Prognos (statistical information) and CE Delft (CO2eq factors of waste treatment), on behalf of the following European Waste Management Associations: FEAD, CEWEP, the RDF Industry Group, and the Dutch Waste Management Association.

Key results

  • Adopting a 20-year time horizon, waste treatment of the selected waste streams amounts to a net emission of 13 Mt CO2eq.
  • 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: a drop to -283 Mt CO2eq net emission avoidance which results in savings of 296 Mt CO2eq.
  • Landfill diversion: the study shows how the largest gains are made by reducing landfilling of organic waste materials in particular, such as paper & 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.

Key observations

  • The waste management industry has cross-industrial interlinkages by making valuable waste-derived content available to the whole economy as secondary resources for material and energy uses.
  • To achieve maximum CO2 avoidance, policy makers are advised to make optimal use of all available capacity for recycling and waste-to-energy in the EU27+UK.