The ways in which Europe treats its waste has large impacts on climate change and sustainable resource use. Incinerating the things we throw away causes the release of CO2. Landfilling our waste causes the release of methane - a much stronger greenhouse gas.
Recycling offers more environmental benefits and lower environmental and climate impacts. It is also more labour intensive so it creates more jobs. The reduction of waste and the reuse of materials reduces pressure on our planet's scarce resources.
The priority for EU funding in the waste sector should be to decrease waste volumes, while also rapidly increasing separate collection and recycling. Funds for waste management should prioritise prevention of waste, reuse of waste, separate collection, recycling and composting.
Waste incineration is an outdated and expensive technology, and is bad for the climate. The inflexibility and long lifespan of incinerators (usually 20 years) blocks improvements in reducing and recycling waste. This is because an incinerator needs to keep burning the same amount of waste to remain profitable.
Unfortunately EU funds continue to be spent on incineration plants in central and eastern Europe.
Investing in incineration leaves recycling and composting underfinanced. It may also jeopardise waste recycling targets set by the European Union.
Instead of supporting harmful waste treatment practices, EU funds should be invested in integrated sustainable waste management. These should be tailor-made for the region concerned.
EU funds should promote non-incineration, waste prevention and management methods. EU funds should primarily support: