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Pre-sorting essential for mixed waste

Zero Waste Europe and Reloop have released guidelines for mixed waste sorting in the context of the Renewable Energy Directive.

The companies recommend sorting systems of a defined quality should be used to remove fossil-derived materials from the waste. This would ensure that only biogenic waste is used for renewable energy generation. In future, they say, operators would either pre-sort the waste on-site or demonstrate that the waste they receive has been sorted before being delivered for incineration.

Recommendations include setting the following minimum performance criteria for MSW systems:

● Plastics > 70%, with non-target materials contributing no more than 10%
● Steel >80%, with non-target materials contributing no more than 4%
● Aluminium >60%, with non-target materials contributing no more than 6%

The guidelines have been developed to clarify an amendment proposed by the European Parliament regarding the use of mixed wastes for ‘renewable energy’ purposes.

‘Currently, at incineration plants, the biodegradable fraction of mixed waste is never combusted without large quantities of (often recyclable) fossil-derived materials being present,’ says Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme coordinator at Zero Waste Europe. ‘Therefore, to ensure that the renewable energy directive supports schemes that don’t allow the burning of fossil materials such as plastics, mixed waste sorting should be made mandatory for operators that want to sell their energy as renewable.’

Reloop ceo Clarissa Morawski adds that the proposed criteria do not create a new obligation as it’s already in the definition of renewable energy to use only the biogenic fractions of wastes – and not fossils.

In addition to improving separate collection and design for recycling, a recent report by Eunomia Research and Consulting found that pre-sorting of mixed waste is necessary to ensure that existing plastic packaging and municipal waste recycling targets are met and to ensure progress towards the EU’s wider emissions goals.

Zero Waste Europe and Reloop are calling on the European Council and Parliament to improve the criteria for mixed wastes to ensure this would only qualify as a source of renewable energy if it has undergone sorting of defined quality. 

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