Adrian Judge, Director at Tolvik Consulting, chaired the first mornings’ sessions at the 12th International EfW Conference held in London at the end of February.

The first speaker, Jose-Jorge Diaz del Castillo, legal officer in DG Environment, EU Commission summarised the EC’s general plans for the Circular Economy before then going on to discuss the communication proposed later in 2016 on the potential for energy from waste under the EU Energy Union framework. Whilst the communication has no legal force, it appears that the EU is now at least starting to address the role of EfW in the Circular Economy – recognising that a 2030 target of 65% landfill and 10% does not necessarily mean just 25% to EfW.

Particularly encouraging was a recognition that there is a lack of synergy between EfW and energy policy – notwithstanding that EfW on average across the EU only contributes 1-1.5% of total energy needs. There also seems to be an increasing recognition that the movement of RDF across European borders (at least on a short term basis) is economically efficient and should be supported as well as an acknowledgement that a fixed application of the waste hierarchy is not always appropriate. The example of the need to recover energy rather than recycle contaminated waste wood was one we in the UK recognised some time ago but which, to date, parts of Europe have been resisting. It will be interesting to see how the communication develops over time.

David Palmer-Jones (CEO, Suez) set out the consequences of the absence of a UK (sorry, English) waste policy – with Lawrence Slade (CEO, Energy UK) confirming that energy policy too was suffering from a lack of direction.

However the highlight of the session was the acknowledgement by representatives from Germany, Sweden and Austria (all with reported recycling rates in excess of 50%) that if the recycling definition proposed as part of the Circular Economy package were to be adopted, a 65% recycling rate by 2030 would be very unlikely to be achieved. This confirmed what CIWM had previously flagged up in their October 2015 EU Recycling rate harmonisation project – namely that whilst the UK may be reporting a recycling rate of around 43% and Germany 63%, the real gap is significantly less than 20%. Whilst this is not necessarily grounds for celebration, it is good to know that the UK is not quite as much of a European laggard as some would believe. It was also clear that the discussion attracted the interest of Sr Diaz del Castillo.