Climate Protection

New Study: European Waste Management Sector Shows Significant CO2 Reduction Potential for 10 Waste Streams

24th January 2022

This study, building on a previous study conducted by Prognos in 2008, highlights the important contributions by the waste management sector to the EU climate objectives, accounting for avoided emissions for 10 selected waste streams for EU27+UK, based on available statistical data.

9 material waste streams were considered (Paper, Glass, Plastics, Ferrous metals, Aluminium, Wood, Textiles, Waste tyres, Biowaste) plus one stream representing residual waste and Waste Derived Fuel, which includes non-separately collected waste and rejects from waste treatment facilities. The 10 selected waste streams accounts in total 505 Mt, correspondent to approx. 19 % of the total waste generated in EU27+UK in 2018.

Potential CO2 emission reductions are examined against the background of recent revisions of the EU waste legislation. The study explores the potential contribution this legislation and the waste management industry could have to reaching the ambition of climate neutrality by 2050 set out in the European Green Deal, as well as the effect of more ambitious targets.

At the Status Quo (Baseline-2018), the waste industry is (for the selected waste streams) already nearly carbon neutral today, with only 13 Mt CO2eq Net Emissions per year. These results take into account the CO2 savings in the manufacturing and energy sectors, generated by the use of recyclates and Waste-to-Energy, instead of virgin materials and fossil fuels.

By successfully applying current waste legislation and the same recycling and landfill targets to industrial and commercial waste by 2035 across the EU27+UK (Projection 1), the European waste management sector would significantly improve the CO2 avoidance potential to -137 Mt CO2eq, delivering a saving of 150 Mt CO2eq. With more ambitious performances (projection 2), the CO2 net emission avoidance would reach -283 Mt CO2eq, which would result in savings of 296 Mt CO2eq.

The study shows how the largest gains are made by reducing landfilling of particularly organic waste materials, such as paper & cardboard and biowastes, achieving a reduction of up to 120 Mt CO2eq.

Some sensitivity analyses have also been conducted to explore the interactions of key variables for all three scenarios.

One sensitivity explored the comparison of adopting a 20 vs a 100-year time horizon. This clearly highlighted the large impact of methane emissions from landfills, in accordance with the recent IPCC report’s emphasis on the urgency to reduce GHG-emissions.

Another sensitivity investigated the CO2eq savings by energy recovery. The average electricity and heat mix of the European grid (and its evolution with a higher penetration of renewables in the future) is considered as default assumption for energy substitution. A sensitivity analysis with a marginal approach has also been developed which means that processes which recover energy from waste avoid the most carbon intensive conventional power generation technologies – fossil fuel sources. This sensitivity highlights even more the great contributions of energy recovery from waste in a decarbonisation perspective.

The waste management industry has cross-industrial interlinkages by making valuable waste-derived content available to the whole economy as secondary resources for material and energy uses.

The European Waste-to-Energy sector, together with the whole waste management chain represented by the other associations in this study, is ready to engage in increased efforts and investments to realise the CO2 savings potential of a more circular economy.

Joint Press Release

CO2 Study Flyer

Full Study

Peer Review