EU directive 1999/31/EC dictates that member states should reduce their MSW (Municipal Solid waste) that they landfill to 35% of their 1995 production by 2016. The milestone targets for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Land-filling set by the directive were the following (reference year is 1995):

  1. 2006 to be reduced to 75%
  2. 2009 to be reduced to 50%
  3. 2016 to be reduced to 35%

Moreover the directive states that “Member states that in 1995 or the latest year before 1995 for which standardized Eurostat data is available put more than 80% of their collected municipal waste to landfill may postpone the attainment of targets by a period not exceeding four years” which translates in a shift of the 3 target milestones to 2010 for the first, 2013 for the second and 2020 for the third. Countries that fall under this category are the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Ireland, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus, Czech Republic and Bulgaria.


As the targets appear quite ambitious incineration seems an attractive solution since it can reduce the MSW volume up to 95%. Chart 1 demonstrates the levels of Land-filling, incineration and recycling during 2009 for EU member states.

Chart 1

*Source Eurostat.

In chart 1 we notice that there is a cluster of six leading countries Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Germany that their Land-filling level is in the single digits. These countries are the ones that have already achieve the final target set by the landfill directive as shown in chart 2 below

Chart 2

*Source Eurostat

In addition the six leading countries have at the same time the highest levels of recycling and MSW incineration. Their average recycling level is at 59% and their average incineration level at 39% and their average Land-filling is a low 2%.

Clearly without incineration the landfill directive targets would not have been achieved 7 years earlier. Proponents of reduce, reuse, recycle mantra are against incineration as they consider it a disincentive for recycling which is a trivialization . First of all, what they forget is that incineration is in biomass energy (see: biomass energy facts) which is a renewable form of energy since 95% of the material used is of organic origin. Secondly, data from Euro-stat shows a completely different picture. In our 6 country cluster we observe that they possess the top level of recycling. The country with the absolutely top level of recycling outside our 6 leading Member States is Luxemburg with 47% just one point shy of Denmark which is the country with the lowest level of recycling in our top 6. Moreover, the first country that doesn’t incinerate at all and just recycles is Greece which has a Land-filling ranking of 19.

Chart 3


*Source Euro-stat

From Chart 3 we notice that the increase of incineration is around a third since 1995 as opposed to recycling that had almost increased by two and half times.

Thus, data indicate that incineration and recycling can go hand in hand and complement one another in a way favorable to recycling. In addition incineration gives Europeans the benefit of reducing to some degree their level or dependency on fossil fuels in producing electricity and heat; something that should not be taken lightly given the increase that the prices of fossil fuels have undergone in recent years.

More of waste to energy can be found at:

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  1. The word incineration is still connected with just burning and emitting dangerous gaseousness components. That is technology of 30 years ago. Of course there are still installations operating that way. One of the best way to make sure not emitting is to know for sure what you are burning (for heat production, giving mechanical energy production, giving electricity) to have ultimate control on the process. Before the process of burning is applied, separation is the keyword. And if that separation is delivering products with more value than fuel, the better it is, less to burn.
    I would coin the word MSW-reffinery to get away with the ‘bad word’ incineration.

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