Aeversu calls on Catalan Government to maintain energy recovery as a pillar of the circular economy

The Catalan Government’s approach goes against IPCC objectives, and the new methane emissions targets set at COP26

Aeversu, the Spanish Association of Energy Recovery from Municipal Solid Waste, which represents 11 WtE plants in Spain and one in Andorra, is unhappy with the proposal submitted by Catalan Minister for Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, Teresa Jordà, in a plenary session of the Catalan Parliament to place a moratorium on waste incineration infrastructures.

The measure generates confusion regarding environmental targets in waste management. It ignores the major waste disposal problem in Catalonia, where 1.36 million tonnes of municipal waste was landfilled in 2020. The 23 landfills in operation in Catalonia are the main source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the waste sector, accounting for 77% of such emissions, according to the latest report by the Catalan Climate Change Office.

This moratorium would mean supporting landfilling, thereby going against EU targets to reduce the quantity of waste sent to landfill to 10% in terms of weight. The proposal also ignores all the available scientific reports, from the European Union, which, in Directive 2010/75/EU, stipulates that energy recovery is preferable to landfilling, and from the IPCC and the UN, which recognise the utility and importance of energy recovery in reducing GHG emissions.

The moratorium proposal also envisages a plan to close the existing energy recovery plants. This would lead not only to increased landfilling in Catalonia but would also do away with the public service provided by these plants, all of which are publicly owned. In 2020, WtE plants recovered 18% of all waste produced in Catalonia, while 34% was landfilled. These figures fall well short of EU 2035 targets.

The measure proposed by the Minister is as incoherent as placing a moratorium on the use of natural gas without first closing coal-fired power stations. The primary objective is to put an end to landfilling and the serious collateral environmental damage associated with it.

Moreover, such a moratorium would clearly hinder the circular economy, given that energy recovery complements recycling by safely treating non-recyclable waste. Energy recovery is a proven technology widely used in European countries with a greater environmental tradition, countries with high recycling rates and landfilling rates of close to zero.

The proposal is a step backwards in a region always considered to be at the forefront of waste management and regarded as an example for many other regions.

The environmental contribution of energy recovery

Aeversu also underlines the fact that WtE facilities contribute to mitigating climate change by diverting waste from landfills, where its decomposition causes emissions of methane, one of the most contaminating GHGs. These plants also produce partially renewable energy, thus enabling fossil fuels to be substituted.

The figures published by G-advisory in its report ‘Energy recovery from municipal solid waste in Spain and Andorra’ are particularly relevant in this regard. According to this study, landfills give rise to 245% more GHG emissions than waste-to-energy facilities.

For this reason, Aeversu insists on the need to place moratoriums on landfilling and to apply higher landfill fees. It also highlights the need to double the capacity of energy recovery facilities in Spain to meet the 2035 targets. Firstly, because such facilities provide essential treatment for non-recyclable municipal waste, secondly, because they offer a source of renewable energy, and thirdly, because they act as a driver to activate the economy through the creation of quality jobs.

The association is, therefore, confident that this measure will not materialise, and is willing to reach out and enter into dialogue to guide and redirect the situation.