3. 10. 2022

Waste technologies will help in the crisis, says conference

Litter against the energy crisis

Not so long ago, the term waste management referred exclusively to the transport from point A to point B, i.e. typically from the domestic waste bin to the landfill, recalled Peter Kurth, President of the European Association of Waste Management (FEAD).Today, however, the sector's tasks are much broader and touch on virtually all areas of the economy, from primary sorting to the provision of raw materials for industrial production, energy production and CO2 reduction. All this while trying to reduce as much as possible what actually ends up in landfill.

"The amount of waste is growing faster than GDP, faster than population and faster than the EU's recycling capacity, so we need to stop producing so much waste in the first place, and then improve the collection and treatment of what we cannot prevent," said European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius at the recent Higher Energy and Material Security in EU Countries conference, organised by the Czech Association of Circular Economy (CAObH) and with the weekly Hrot as media partner.

Still high rates of landfilling

Speakers agreed that the sector can play a key role in Europe's current challenges, i.e. in securing resources for industry and combating the energy and climate crisis. Increasing the share of recycled materials can significantly increase the availability of raw materials that are currently imported from distant countries. "Using raw materials from recycled material will help save 96 percent of some metals," Kurth outlined. This will also lead to a reduction in the production of greenhouse gases. Indeed, as Sinkevičius pointed out, it is the extraction and processing of raw materials that today produces half of the world's emissions.

First and foremost, it is therefore necessary to reduce landfilling, which is still disproportionately high in the Czech Republic. 45% of municipal waste still ends up unused in landfills. However, the situation varies considerably from country to country and, according to Kurth, in other countries the figure is as high as eighty per cent.

However, waste can be transformed not only into raw materials but also into energy, from heat and electricity to synthetic fuels made from plastics. Efficient collection and recycling can thus help Europe wean itself off its dependence on fossil fuels from unreliable Russia and ultimately make expensive energy cheaper for consumers. Waste-to-energy was therefore one of the key themes of the conference.

Lack of infrastructure for energy production

According to Michal Stieber from the CEAObH, the CEE region lacks sufficient infrastructure for the conversion of waste into energy, as well as public funds for its creation. According to Miroslav Zajíček, Veolia's director of strategy and regulation, energy is generated from only 12 percent of the roughly 7.8 million tonnes of municipal waste that the Czech Republic produces annually. European plans call for 31 per cent by 2030.

Currently, there are only four operational waste-to-energy facilities, with eight more in various stages of planning. According to Zajíček, their construction takes seven years in the optimistic case. The problem is not only the infamous building regulations, but also the fact that the public is usually stubbornly opposed to the creation of incinerators.

Another complication is the inconsistency of some European targets and rules. The circular economy and therefore waste-to-energy are an integral part of the Green Deal, but this conflicts with the requirement for a zero-emission footprint. However, two companies that process waste into zero-emission energy also presented their projects at the conference. The city's Prague Services recently bought an agricultural biogas plant, which they plan to convert into a facility to convert the city's gastro waste into zero-emission biomethane. However, it will not be the first. EFG has been operating such a biogas plant for several years in Rapotín near Šumperk.

However, according to the speakers, investments in energy processing of waste will grow rapidly in the coming years. "We expect a big wave of investments in waste-to-energy plants in the Czech Republic," said Zajíček. The same is true for the entire circular economy sector, with Kurth saying that the amount of investment in waste management in Europe reaches five billion euros every year.
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