The whole of Europe is striving to raise the recycling rates of its nations, with a competition for excellence expressed in the quantity of waste selected and re-released on the market in the form of material before.
Italy is the first country in Europe in terms of quantities recycled with 79.3%, according to the Symbola Foundation's GreenItaly report, followed by France at 55.8%, with a European average at 39.2%.
In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, there are inconsistencies, according to local observers, both in terms of counting systems for recycled percentages and disposal systems some waste.
Indeed, a survey by Channel 4's Dispatches program in the United Kingdom reveals that 11% of British household waste, collected for recycling, is sent to incineration plants instead of being reused or recycled. Total carbon emissions from incineration have now exceeded those from coal.
Up until the mid-1990s the UK sent 90 per cent of its waste to landfill, which is an easy and cheap way to dispose of waste. The UK government then introduced a landfill tax making disposal through this channel much more expensive, so the market found an alternative. The solution was "energy from waste", where waste is burned to produce electricity.
In 2008 the UK government set the goal of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020, but in the last five years the recycling rate has stopped at 45%.
One of the UK's foremost recycling experts, Professor Karl Williams, Director of Waste Management at the University of Central Lancashire, also expressed serious doubts. on this figure: "It is not a real figure, because when we talk about recycling rates we are only talking about collection rates.
So the way we count the recycling data, at the moment, is expressed through the amount of material we collect from the families, this is then measured and weighed, transforming this value as data on recycling".
Studies show that more than 50% of what people put in their waste could be recycled or composted if proper sorting was done.
What they are burning are precious resources
Proponents of incineration say this is a sustainable solution to the waste problem, preventing millions of tons from going to landfills. The justification for them is "that we do not currently have sufficient facilities to recycle all plastic".
“According to them, we have a lot of waste that we cannot manage, apart from landfilling. Therefore, it makes sense to burn them for energy instead of burning other types of fossil fuels, ”says Professor Williams.
But Georgia Elliott-Smith, an environmental engineer, believes more could be done to stop the burning of recyclable materials: “The reality is that around 60 percent of what goes into these waste incinerators in the UK may be recyclable.
It is therefore essential to understand that what they are burning are precious resources that should remain in the economy, be recycled, reused and not and burned.
At the moment, the recycling targets assigned to each local waste authority are not achieved, but, at the same time, there are no penalties for failure to achieve of the objectives assigned ".
The growth of waste-to-energy plants has created a swirling input market, which must ensure fuel to burn to plants with the need to continuously generate waste.
Total carbon emissions from incineration have exceeded those of coal
Carbon emissions, C02, are one of the main drivers of climate change, which is why there has been a shift away from energy created with coal, however, more incinerators that generate energy mean a constant increase in C02.
Data for 2019 shows that the UK's 48 incinerators emitted a total of around 12.6 million tonnes of CO2.
By comparison, the declining coal sector produced 11.7 million tons of CO2. All energy producers have to publish their total carbon dioxide emissions, but the incineration industry only needs to take C02 from burning fossil waste such as plastics into account.
So they don't have to report emissions from sources like food and garden waste, known as biogenic CO2. Environmental activists claim this is "creative carbon accounting".
“At the moment waste incinerators are completely excluded from any type of carbon tax. They pay no tax on the fuel they receive, which is waste, and they pay no tax on the emissions they create, so they have this double economic benefit that makes them profitable, affordable and profitable, ”says environmental engineer Georgia Elliott-Smith.
Automatic translation. We apologize for any inaccuracies. Original article in Italian.