In recent years there have been a lot of discussions on the best ways to sustainably manage the growing amount of waste. In 2015 an average European generated 476 kg of municipal waste. 26% of this waste or almost 62M tonnes in EU28 were landfilled. Landfills are the least desirable option in waste management, as they pose a number of environmental risks: they emit methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, microplastics from uncontrolled landfills are blown into water bodies, such as the ocean and rivers, and over time groundwater might get polluted through landfill leaching. Landfills also take space and lock in resources as the landfilled waste could be otherwise recycled or treated in efficient Waste-to-Energy plants.
It is essential to minimise waste management risks towards the environment and recycling has its limits. Working hand in hand with recycling, waste to energy facilities treat the waste that is not good enough for recycling because of mixed, degraded materials or toxic substances and produce valuable and clean energy. Furthermore, following the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, the energy produced in Waste-to-Energy plants is considered partly renewable (biodegradable waste is biomass).
Switzerland is not an EU member state, but has definitely been one of the front runners in European waste management in the last years and their new plant in Lucerne just proves how innovative Waste-to-Energy technologies can be. It lit its first fire back in January 2015 and has the capacity to treat 220,000 tonnes of municipal waste per year, enough to cover the electricity demand of approximately 38,000 households. The plant is built next to a highway and in direct proximity to a paper factory and district heating connection point. This way minimal traffic noise (traffic across residential areas can be completely avoided) and maximum export of steam and heat are ensured. The plant’s efficiency is high, up to 70%, as it delivers steam straight to the neighboring paper mill, through an integrated supply network. Further heat is distributed to the entire region of Rontal via a district heating network.
Thanks to the Renergia plant, PEPA (the paper mill) is reducing its heating oil consumption by 40 million litres annually and lowering its CO2 emissions by 90,000 tonnes. Steam is a highly valuable product for the paper industry, needed to either dry the incoming sorted paper or to boil the paper mix in order to make paper paste, the very first step in paper manufacturing.
 Lucerne (Perlen) / Switzerland Energy-from-Waste plant by Hitachi Zosen INOVA