France – Report on residual waste treatment

A recent study by ADEME (the French Environment Protection Agency) analyses the current status and upcoming developments for residual waste treatment in France.

The agency estimates a reduction of residual waste production in France from 17.7 million tonnes in 2013 to 14.7 million tonnes in 2025, due to changes in behaviour and to the optimisation of current collection systems. Because of a national landfill reduction target, a 50% decrease in landfilling of residual waste is also expected.

In order to further support this decrease in residual waste production, the agency recommends local authorities to initiate behavioural changes of their citizens, their public services and of the trade sector on their territory.

ADEME states that “current treatment capacity units should still be optimized and new investments could be needed, despite this decrease in residual waste production. Energy recovery should prevail for this waste stream over disposal (incineration without energy recovery or landfill).

Concerning Waste-to-Energy, ADEME acknowledges that “the current incineration capacity significantly contributes to the landfill reduction target”. The agency foresees a constant thermal treatment capacity between now and 2025, with an increase in energy efficiency. The aim by 2025 is to reach a higher recovery threshold for 50% of the plants with insufficient recovery, and to completely phase out incineration without energy recovery. A higher energy efficiency could also be achieved by connecting the plants to a District heating network.

The agency does not recommend to build new mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) facilities even “when incineration with energy recovery is not available”. This is due to the heterogeneous nature of residual municipal waste. ADEME forecasts that, with time, residual waste will contain a decreasing amount of recyclable materials while the quality required by recyclers will increase. The agency therefore states that “hoping for an efficient mechanical sorting of very heterogeneous residual waste in order to extract recyclable materials appears to be a technical risk as well as a financial gamble”. ADEME additionally notes that “building new MBT plants should be avoided, as wide spread source separation of organic waste will lead this waste stream directly to material recovery (after composting or gasification)”.

ADEME also advises local authorities to assess carefully the performance of new processes such as gasification or pyrolysis, particularly when treating highly heterogeneous waste.