Waste-to-Energy in a Circular Economy: Friend or Foe? – Europe

Posted on July 6, 2022 by DrRossH in Landfills and Disposal


Circular economy – it seems to be the buzzword of the moment, circling across all industries. But what does it actually entail? According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in a circular economy “materials for new products come from old products. As much as possible, everything is reused, re-manufactured or, as a last resort, recycled back into a raw material or used as a source of energy.”
It’s a way of looking at things differently. Instead of taking raw materials from the environment, turning them into products that ultimately end up back there, it’s much more about taking the waste from the end of the supply chain and putting it back in at the beginning. One could also say that it’s simply about being more thoughtful with the resources we have.
A circular economy is based on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature. It’s clear where waste management comes in here. Various stakeholders are already discussing strategies, implementing new rules and driving innovations. But one particular sector of the industry has a hard time selling its role to the public: waste-to-energy.

Most experts agree that in order to play a sustainable role in a circular economy, waste-to-energy plants must not rely on electric-only production. Co- or better yet tri-generations seem preferable. In order to fulfil this role, the area where a new plant is built has to be considered carefully. If it is too remote from population centres and industry, the heat and steam it produces can hardly be used. Ella Stengler agrees: “Ideally a waste-to-energy plant is situated close to a potential client. There are already some very good examples where incinerators and industry work hand in hand.”