Efficient incinerators to remain “recovery” operations

EU governments agreed to reclassify efficient waste incinerators as recovery operations and backed further measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, mercury and water quality last week

Environment ministers reached unanimous political agreement on the first reading of the proposed waste framework Directive during an Environment Council meeting in Luxembourg.

The Directive clarifies the definition of waste with a new mechanism to set criteria to determine when certain materials, such as compost or aggregates, should no longer be considered as waste.

Ministers endorsed the European Commission's efficiency calculation, but added a clause allowing opt-outs for some inefficient plants.

It was also agreed that countries could block waste imports bound for recovery if domestic waste would be displaced to landfill, or treated in a manner "not in line with national waste management plans".

Ministers backed a five-stage EU waste hierarchy – prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal – as a "guiding principle" rather than the stronger "general rule" that some countries had wanted. Member states will have to develop national waste programmes containing "quantitative or qualitative benchmarks".

The Council adopted conclusions on the review of the EU emissions trading scheme (EUETS), with ministers inviting the Commission to submit a legislative proposal and adopt amendments to the EUETS Directive as soon as possible to increase transparency, strengthen the scheme and broaden its scope from the start of the third trading period in 2013.

The Council urged the Commission to consider increased auctioning and to harmonise the methods for setting national emission caps. Ministers backed the proposed inclusion of aviation under the EUETS, and invited the Commission to consider expanding the scheme’s scope to land use, land-use change, forestry and surface transport. The Commission was also asked to propose criteria for including new sectors or gases and to explore ways to strengthen monitoring, reporting and compliance provisions.

Other measures included:
  • Adoption of the Commission’s strategy for reducing CO2 emissions from cars. The strategy proposes the setting of a target to reduce average CO2 emissions from new road vehicles to 120 grams per kilometre by 2012. Carmakers would have to achieve 130g/km through technical improvements and the remaining 10g/km could come from measures including increased use of biofuels.
  • Reaching a political agreement on the proposed Directive on water quality standards to limit and phase out certain priority pollutants.
  • Political agreement on a draft Regulation banning on exports of metallic mercury, with agreement that metallic mercury should only be eligible for underground storage if specific environmental criteria are met.