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News article30 March 20174 min read

Towards updated EU environmental standards for waste treatment

Picture of a waste treatment facility
© jurgen falchle -

After 3 years of intense work, the review of the EU environment standards for waste treatment is reaching an end. The Final stakeholders' experts meeting took place in Seville on 19-23 March 2017. During this meeting, the stakeholders (16 EU Member States, Norway, 19 industrial organisations and one environmental NGO), together with the JRC and other Commission services, completed the technical work to define the Best Available Techniques (BAT) conclusions for the waste treatment sector as part of the review of the Waste Treatment Best Available Techniques Reference Document (BREF), dated 2006, under the Industrial Emissions Directive. The meeting achieved large consensus on the various issues under discussion.

4 000 waste treatment facilities concerned

The BAT conclusions and BAT-associated emission levels, once published in the Official Journal of the EU, will be the reference for the authorities across the EU to set operational permit conditions for the around 4 000 waste treatment facilities affected, the largest waste treatment facilities in Europe. The European waste treatment sector is extremely varied and carries out treatments such as shredding of end-of-life vehicles, treatment of lamps containing mercury, composting of biowaste, re-refining of waste oil or regeneration of spent solvents. In 2012, the amount of waste generated in EU-28 was around 2.5 billion tonnes, of which around 4 % are classified as hazardous waste (source EUROSTAT). Not all of this waste is treated in the facilities covered by these BAT conclusions.

Newly introduced associated emission levels

The draft BAT conclusions for Waste Treatment include, for the first time at EU level, BAT-associated emission levels for emissions to water and to air from mechanical treatments of waste and from aerobic treatment of waste. They also include BAT-associated emission levels for pollutants which are not covered by the existing BREF such as cyanide, adsorbable organically bound halogens (AOX) for treatment of water-based liquid wastes or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for mechanical treatment of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment containing refrigerant. They also propose more stringent levels than in the existing BREF for dust emissions to air and for emission to water of mercury, cadmium and chromium VI.

There are now 64 proposed BAT-associated emission levels (51 for emissions to water and 13 for emissions to air), compared to 13 in the existing BREF. It is to be noted that for a large number of parameters, these BAT-associated emission levels also concern indirect discharges to water and that they include an associated emission level for odour emissions from biological treatment of waste, which can be used as an alternative to ammonia emissions to air.

Under discussion

While most of the BAT-AELs proposed by the JRC's EIPPCB were endorsed by the experts, it was finally decided to collect more information about hydrogen sulphide emissions from the biological treatment of waste before a BAT-AEL can be proposed in the next revision of the BAT conclusions. It was also decided to lower the upper end of the proposed BAT-AEL for phosphorous and cyanide emissions to water. Heavily debated was the BAT-AEL for emissions of organic compounds to air from the re-refining of waste oil, physico-chemical treatment of waste with calorific value and regeneration of solvents. It was finally decided to keep the proposed BAT-AEL but to increase the mass emission load threshold over which this BAT-AEL applies, in order to account for the significant amount of diffuse emissions which will need to be captured following the publication of the BAT conclusions. This mass threshold is however applicable only if the emission does not contain CMR substances.

Main challenges for the review of the waste treatment BREF

The main challenge met by the TWG was the complexity and diversity of the sector. This means very different waste treatment processes concerned, with different types of waste treated and different environmental impacts. This is addressed by both generic BAT conclusions which cover all the waste treatment processes and specific BAT conclusions which apply only for some of them.

Next steps

The next steps before the publication of the BAT conclusions in the Official Journal of the EU are:

  • Opinion given by a Forum of stakeholders upon the draft BAT conclusions concluded by the technical working group on waste treatment
  • Vote by the Member States on the BAT conclusions text proposed by the Commission.

Background information

Best available techniques conclusions aim at achieving a high level of protection of the environment under economically and technically viable conditions.

BAT covers not only the emission levels and environmental performance of several (production) techniques but also includes requirements for how the technology is used and the way in which the installation is designed, built, maintained, operated and decommissioned.

The so-called Seville process is the process that draws up and reviews the BAT Reference Document (BREF) which includes BAT conclusions. BAT conclusions are the environmental standards that the most polluting industrial sectors have to meet.

The drafting of the BREFs and BAT conclusions is led by the European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau (EIPPCB) of the JRC, with the involvement of experts from industry, public authorities, environmental NGOs and other services of the European Commission.

The BAT conclusions for the waste treatment constitute the 14th of a series of Commission Implementing Decisions adopted under the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) 2010/75/EU. The EIPPCB is currently reviewing BAT reference documents for the following sectors: food drink and milk, waste incineration, surface treatment using organic solvents (including wood and wood-products preservation with chemicals), ferrous-metals processing and common waste gas treatment in the chemical sector.

Related Content

European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau

Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU (IED)


Publication date
30 March 2017