New Danish waste regulation a challenge to European recycling

New Danish waste regulations will create a more open recycling market, but also limit import of waste to the country. - The intention is good, but limiting the waste import is counterproductive in a European context, argues Country Manager in Geminor DK, Kasper Thomsen.

The Danish Government has introduced a new regulation that is intended to develop a climate-neutral waste industry by 2030. The regulation requires municipalities to facilitate for more material recycling and less energy recovery of waste, which according to the Danish Government will lead to an annual reduction of 700,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Denmark in 2030.

The collection of waste in the country is intensified by introducing requirements for 10 different fractions of waste, where the most central fractions are food, paper, cardboard, metal, glass, plastic and textile waste. The fees for handling are increased, and a demand for 60 percent recycling of all plastics is imposed.

More waste on the market
The new regulation will lead to a more open market, as the municipalities now must put the waste out to tender. These measures provide new opportunities for private companies in the Danish waste and recycling market, says Country Manager for Geminor in Denmark, Kasper Thomsen.

Kasper Thomsen, Geminor CM in Denmark.

– The regulation that was agreed upon this June is not unique in an international perspective, but brings Denmark in the direction of more material recycling, which is positive. The regulations are similar to those we already find in other countries such as Norway, says Thomsen.

– The new rules will lead to increased competition, as more will bid on the existing waste volumes. Greater demand can also lead to more moderate waste prices. Over time, we will hopefully also see more treatment plants for material recycling, says Thomsen.

The market is international
In the new regulations there is also a demand for limiting waste imports to Denmark. The Danes currently import around 350 000 tonnes of residual waste as fuel for district heating and energy production, but the intention is now to become self-sufficient.

Even though the intention is good, closing the borders for waste import is not an ideal solution, says Kasper Thomsen.

– When the Danish capacity is removed from the market, the European waste market will have more residual waste to dispose of. Thus, if this waste is not used as fuel in Denmark, there is a great risk that it will be landfilled or just burned elsewhere, which gives a greater environmental impact overall, says Thomsen.

– If European countries are reluctant to import treated waste, it will be hard to utilize all of our waste as a resource. The waste must be recycled or recovered where there is capacity. The regulations that are now being introduced in Denmark do not help to facilitate this need, says Thomsen.

Another aspect of this is the recovery efficiency in Denmark.

– Danish Energy-from-Waste plants are amongst the most efficient in the world, recovering almost all available energy in the waste by producing both electricity for the grid and district heating for the cities in Denmark. A reduction in Danish EfW capacity would most likely increase the global CO2 footprint, as new EfW in other countries will operate on much lower efficiency, says Kasper Thomsen in Geminor.

Not enough capacity
Creating larger volumes of fractions that can be recycled, but without offering adequate final treatment, can potentially be a challenge. An example is today’s surplus of plastic, which has become a problem during COVID-19: There is not enough production capacity to recycle plastics, which creates imbalance in the market. As a consequence, it becomes economically unattractive to recycle.

Creating a healthy waste market within Denmark’s borders is almost impossible, Thomsen claims.

– If material recycling is to become the new standard, we must have a well-functioning international market for waste fractions. This is not obtained by reducing import, says Thomsen.

– If we disregard the effects of COVID-19, there is today capacity to handle and process large volumes of waste. What we need now is a free international market, and good incentives for recycling and producing new products from waste where this is possible, concludes Country Manager at Geminor, Kasper Thomsen.

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