Waste incineration under the EU ETS. An assessment of climate benefits

Municipal waste incineration is currently excluded from the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). If incineration is included, as proposed, waste companies will have to buy emission credits for each tonne of CO2 they emit when processing household, company and industrial waste. This additional cost of incineration can act as an incentive for waste prevention and recycling, which will then become more competitive (less costly) than incineration. A shift of (not biologically pre-treated) waste to landfills should be avoided and is already restricted under the Landfill Directive.

The results of this study, requested by Zero Waste Europe, show that including incineration under the EU ETS would indeed encourage waste prevention and recycling, yielding both climate and employment benefits:

  • CO2 emissions are estimated to decrease by 2.8 to 5.4 Mt per year in 2022 and 4.3 to 8.8 Mt per year in 2030. The benefits gradually increase up to 2030 because carbon prices are expected to rise, making recycling relatively more competitive. The upper end of the range reflects the benefits if both fossil CO2 emissions (CO2 emissions from e.g. incinerating plastics) and biogenic CO2 emissions (stemming from incinerating food waste) are included under the EU ETS. The lower bound reflects the benefits if only fossil CO2 emissions are included.
  • Additional jobs amount to 6,800 to 13,000 in 2022 and 11,200 to 21,200 in 2030. Extra jobs will be created since recycling activities are more labour-intensive than waste incineration.