Tackling industrial waste Cement
kilns versus Incinerators - An environmental comparison

Introduction Link to the summary

The European Union has developed a highly comprehensive legislative system on waste management since 1975. The framework directive relating to waste (directive 2006/12/EC) sets out for Member States the general principles required to prevail in national policies for managing waste.

This European framework is based on a waste treatment hierarchy according to which priority has to be given to waste prevention programmes and reducing the harmful or hazardous nature of waste.

Any unavoidable waste should be recovered. In other words, it should go through a process that consists of extracting secondary raw materials by reusing the waste, recycling the waste, or using the waste in any other process that extracts its content in terms of matter and/or energy.

If, for technical or economic reasons, the recovery of waste is not possible, we should then resort to what are known as disposal techniques, such as disposing of the waste at landfill sites or burning it in specially designed incinerators.

Unlike recovery processes, elimination allows for very little in the way of saving natural resources. The main aim of disposal is to destroy the waste under conditions that are safe both for human health and the environment.

The aim of this waste hierarchy is to give priority to processes that present the least risk for the environment and for human health, and which also make it possible to save natural resources. While the Member States remain in control of the way in which this hierarchy is given a place in their national legislation (the principle of subsidiarity), they are still required to abide by its principles.

On 22nd December 2006, a decree issued by the Flemish Region resulted in a controversy between the Flemish Region and the Belgian cement industry regarding the way in which the hierarchy is to be implemented. In point of fact, the decree introduced an identical tax for incinerating waste (as a form of disposal) and the co-processing of waste in cement furnaces (as a form of recovery).

In issuing this decree, the Flemish Region showed it was of the opinion that the environmental impacts of the two methods of treatment were similar and that accordingly, there was no justification in giving priority of one method over the other.

This argument is disputed by the Belgian cement industry, which commissioned a scientific study designed to provide both sides of the argument with a common and objective basis to be able to compare the environmental impact of incinerating waste in Flanders and its co-incineration in cement kilns in Belgium.

The study was conducted by the Dutch research bureau TNO in conjunction with a panel of scientific experts, the cement industry and the Flemish Region, and presided over by the Walloon Region. The texts of this brochure are an accurate summary of the TNO study and have been produced by GreenFacts at the request and under the supervision of TNO. This summary aims at making the results of this study accessible to people who are not specialists in this area.