n 2018, the European Commis-
sion published its action plan on
nancing sustainable growth. It
set a strategy to attract investment in
sustainable activities, including
through the creation of a European
framework evaluating the sustain-
ability of various economic activi-
ties. Such a framework is known as a
On June 22, 2020, the Regulation
on the establishment of a framework
to facilitate sustainable investment
was published in the EU Ofcial
Journal. This regulation creates the
EU taxonomy, basing its sustainabil-
ity assessment on six objectives:
1. Climate change mitigation
2. Climate change adaptation
3. The sustainable use and protection
of water and marine resources
4. The transition to a circular
5. Pollution prevention and control
6. The protection and restoration of
biodiversity and ecosystems.
To be labelled as sustainable, an
activity should substantially contrib-
ute to at least one of these objectives,
without doing signicant harm to
any of the ve others (“Do No Sig-
nicant Harm” principle, DNSH).
The activity also needs to full
technical screening criteria that are
developed by the Platform on Sus-
tainable Finance an expert group
composed of representatives from
the nancial sector, various indus-
tries, and NGOs and adopted in
delegated acts. Without these dele-
gated acts, the framework is an emp-
ty shell: to assess the sustainability
of their portfolios, investors and
companies need to assess the activi-
ties they nance, insure or conduct
against the technical criteria pub-
lished in the delegated acts.
A rst delegated act, covering the
two climate objectives and encom-
passing around 70 activities, was
published in the Ofcial Journal of
the EU on 9th December 2021. A
draft complementary delegated act
covering gas and nuclear energy was
scheduled for December 22, 2021,
and a delegated act covering objec-
tives 3 to 6 is expected in 2022.
But waste management is one
piece missing in the taxonomy. The
waste management sector can con-
tribute to at least three of these ob-
jectives (climate change mitigation,
circular economy and pollution pre-
vention) and has therefore been par-
tially covered by the rst delegated
act and by the rst draft of activities
proposed by the Platform for the sec-
ond delegated act.
The rst delegated act acknowl-
edges the contributions to climate
change mitigation that can be
achieved in the higher steps of the
waste hierarchy: material recovery
of non-hazardous waste, anaerobic
digestion of biowaste, composting.
At the lower end of the hierarchy, it
recognises the positive contribution
of landll gas capture in closed land-
lls. As for the activities to be cov-
ered in the next delegated act, the
Platform proposed to note the contri-
bution of material recovery (both
non-hazardous and hazardous waste)
and of phosphorus recovery from
sewage sludge to the transition to the
circular economy, and of hazardous
waste treatment to pollution preven-
tion and control. The lower end of
the waste hierarchy was also cov-
ered, with the inclusion of the reme-
diation of legally non-conforming
landlls and abandoned or illegal
dumps as contributing to pollution
prevention and control.
So far, the work accomplished on
the taxonomy has however over-
looked a cornerstone of sustainable
waste management: dealing with re-
sidual waste, the waste that despite
all efforts cannot be prevented, re-
used or recycled. Large disparities in
waste management systems still ex-
ist between EU Member States:
while some Member States like Ger-
many recycle 67 per cent of their
municipal waste and landll virtual-
ly none of it, others like Romania
landll 76 per cent and recycle 11
per cent of their municipal waste. In
2019 in Spain, 12 million tonnes of
municipal waste were landlled.
The EU’s best performers in waste
management combine a high level of
recycling with an appropriate level
of waste-to-energy (WtE) so that
non-sorted waste and residues from
sorting and recycling processes can
be safely treated and their energy re-
covered. In order to reach the 2035
targets of minimum 65 per cent recy-
cling and maximum 10 per cent
landlling of municipal waste, many
Member States that still rely heavily
on landlls will need investments in
all of the other levels of the waste hi-
erarchy. The taxonomy would be an
ideal framework to provide investors
and public authorities with clear cri-
teria for sustainable residual waste
treatment activities. The move to-
wards more high quality recycling is
also leading to an increase in residu-
al, non-recyclable waste streams.
This waste must be treated in dedi-
cated installations, to avoid waste
transports to third countries where
environmentally sound management
is not guaranteed. This is the role of
As acknowledged in the European
Commission’s Communication on
the role of Waste-to-Energy in the
Circular Economy, the WtE sector is
a key element of an integrated waste
management system and fully be-
longs in a circular economy as it
treats residual, non-recyclable waste.
It is therefore disappointing that nei-
ther the Commission nor the Plat-
form on Sustainable Finance have
proposed any guidance for the treat-
ment of the unrecyclable residual
waste to the countries that will need
to develop this aspect of their waste
management system.
The legal feasibility of including
WtE activities in the taxonomy has
been demonstrated by a legal analy-
sis from PwC (provided technical
criteria are developed and adopted).
In practice, the sector contributes to
the three objectives highlighted ear-
lier (1, 4 and 5).
With regard to climate change miti-
gation, WtE substitutes fossil fuel by
producing energy from non-recycla-
ble waste which would otherwise
have been landlled (emitting cli-
mate potent methane). As a signi-
cant part of the waste treated is bio-
genic, around half of the energy
produced is renewable. The combus-
tion process also allows the recovery
of metals embedded in the waste,
which leads to further greenhouse
gas emission savings. The mineral
part of bottom ash can be recovered
and used as aggregates, leading to
further emission savings.
Waste-to-Energy also helps to en-
able the transition to a circular econ-
omy, by treating non-recyclable
waste in the most sustainable way
possible, in line with the waste hier-
archy and best available techniques.
High-quality recycling can only be
achieved if there is an outlet for re-
jects from sorting and recycling fa-
cilities. This has been highlighted by
the recycling industry.
While the Platform proposal in-
cludes treatment of hazardous waste
for pollution prevention, there are
also contaminated wastes that are not
classied as hazardous but still need
thermal treatment to destroy the pol-
lutants and pathogens (e.g. POP-con-
taining wastes, some healthcare
waste). For these wastes, WtE plants
contribute to pollution prevention
and control: they allow the material
cycle to remain free of pollutants.
To be included in the taxonomy, an
activity must do no signicant harm.
With regards to WtE, this means that
installations are planned, designed
and operated so that they are in line
with the waste hierarchy, hence con-
sidering waste prevention and recy-
cling efforts. The Taxonomy Regula-
tion (Art. 17(1)(d)(i)) indicates that
an activity is signicantly harmful to
the transition to a circular economy
if this activity leads to a “signicant
increase in the generation, incinera-
tion or disposal of waste”. The Reg-
ulation does not dene further what
a “signicant increase” means and
on which level this should be inter-
preted (local, national, European).
As for additional capacities, the
WtE sector explicitly stated that new
investments should only happen in
well justied cases, in line with local
and national waste management
plans taking into account the EU
waste targets and potential waste
prevention and recycling measures.
The ongoing discussions on taxon-
omy are an ideal opportunity to de-
velop guidelines for the treatment of
non-recyclable waste in the most
sustainable way possible, in line
with the waste hierarchy and best
available techniques, while ensuring
that proper safeguards are in place.
Missing this opportunity will delay
investments in WtE when they are
needed, which will lead to incom-
plete waste management systems.
Many countries will lack outlets for
the rejects from their sorting and re-
cycling facilities and rely instead on
treatments lower in the hierarchy, or
send non-recyclable waste to regions
with lower environmental standards.
This will hamper the achievement of
the European waste management tar-
gets and, more importantly, be detri-
mental for both the circular economy
and the environment.
This is why CEWEP, together with
European associations representing
the whole waste management value
chain, calls on the European Com-
mission and the Platform on sustain-
able nance to develop technical
screening criteria for the inclusion of
WtE in the taxonomy.
Dr. Ella Stengler, is the Managing
Director at the Confederation of Eu-
ropean Waste-to-Energy Plants (CE-
WEP); Maxime Pernal is Policy Of-
cer, CEWEP.
The waste
management sector
can contribute to at
least three of the
six objectives of
the EU taxonomy
but the current
plan overlooks
a cornerstone of
sustainable waste
dealing with residual
waste. Waste-to-
energy has a vital
role to play here,
say CEWEP’s
(Confederation of
European Waste-to-
Energy Plants)
Dr. Ella Stengler
and Maxime Pernal.
Waste-to-energy: the missing
Waste-to-energy: the missing
piece of the taxonomy puzzle
piece of the taxonomy puzzle
Industry Perspective
Pernal: the WtE sector is a key
element of an integrated waste
management system and fully
belongs in a circular economy
Dr Stengler: So far, the work accomplished on the taxonomy has
overlooked a cornerstone of sustainable waste management