Norwegian waste expert: Germany should lead, not slow down progress

Norway has had a biodegradable waste in landfills ban in place since 2009. [Shutterstock]

The proposed 2030 waste targets are ambitious, but achievable, EURACTIV Slovakia learned from Henrik Lystad, deputy director of the Norwegian Association of Waste Management and chair of the European Compost Network.

Lystad was interviewed by EURACTIV.sk’s Pavol Szalai.

You represent the European Compost Network in Brussels. There has been a suggestion backed by Germany to scrap the recycling targets for 2030. Is this a good idea?

Definitely not. And I really do not understand this suggestion. I fear that this initiative comes in the fear that the new recycling quotas will not be so high with new statistical methods. Germany is a European leader when it comes to recycling and recycling technology. And it should definitely accept its role and not slow down this very important process.

Circular economy is going to happen. We need it. It is important for Europe. And Germany needs to be a leader.

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What are the rates of recycling, incineration and landfill of municipal waste in Norway?

The recycling rate of municipal waste is around 42%. Very little is landfilled, approximately 4%. The rest is recycled or sent to waste-to-energy plants.

Is there a landfill ban in Norway?

Yes. There has been a landfill ban on biodegradable material since 2009. It is measured as waste containing more than 10% of organic matter. The threshold value is higher than in our neighbouring countries of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. But it works similarly, because the overall share on waste between 5% to 10% organic matter is very little.

Will Norway manage to reach the 2020 goals enshrined in European legislation?

Actually, it is not certain. The recycling figures are not so high, even though there is no landfilling. There is still a way to go.

What is the problem?

One problem has been capturing biowaste. It is not high enough. There is still no obligation to make source separation of biowaste. In some municipalities, biowaste is going to incineration. It is also a matter of capture rate. Besides, the amount of paper with high recycling rates, is decreasing.

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Another issue is bulky waste. Recycling centres in Norway experience increased amounts of bulky waste, the recycling rates of this waste is often below that of door-to-door collection.

There is quite a high share of incineration in Norway. Is it because the incineration facilities have already been built and have to be used?

There is no overcapacity in Norway. The waste-to-incineration capacity represents only about two thirds of the generated residual waste. The last third is transported to Swedish incineration plants.

This applies for both household waste and commercial waste. Municipalities without in-house capacity put their waste treatment on tenders. Commercial waste owners in Norway decide the destiny of their own waste. Here fluctuating prices for different treatment options may influence the destination of the waste.

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Municipalities with in-house incineration plants may have the same recycling regime as those without. Many municipalities set their own targets regarding climate gas emissions and the service for the citizens is an important factor.

But the high share of incineration is a topic we need to solve. We cannot only hide behind the fact that the fraction of waste wood is higher in Norway and the cold climate makes it more feasible to recover the energy from waste.

What is Norway’s relation to EU law on waste?

We have to respect and implement it, due to the EEA-agreement between Norway and EU.

Is the new European waste package too ambitious even for Norway? The initial proposal is 65% of recycling for municipal waste.

It is ambitious, but achievable. It is important to see things in perspective. 2030 is a long way ahead. In 2009, after the landfill ban in Norway, there was a drastic change of streams.

When I hear about the challenges of the Visegrád countries, it is a matter of perspective. Where are you today? You have a lot of landfills. And you think you need to continue to have a lot of landfills. But you do not. It is just about changing streams and building new capacities. If you build new capacities and pass the regulation, it will happen.

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The problems in Norway are different from those in the Visegrád countries. Still, where can countries like Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland learn a lesson from Norway?

The Visegrád countries have taken very good legislative approaches. Most of them have implemented source separation of biowaste. That is the cornerstone for reaching high targets and quality recycling.

As for the lessons, there are two instruments. One is extended producer responsibility. Slovakia has made good legislation on that. Producer responsibility is a very effective way to make things happen without municipalities and citizens having to pay for it over the waste bill. At the end of the day, citizens will have to pay by purchasing products.

The second instrument is making capacity-building work in a fair balance. Poland and other countries try to stimulate the buildup of capacities. Not too much, but enough. That seems like a good approach.

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Are you suggesting governments should cooperate and inform each other of the measures?

I believe it is important to have some local treatment facilities. It is also important that the new capacity is sustainable both in terms of environmental performance and business model.

You mean there should be no overcapacity?

Absolutely. But the business cases also have to be good. The waste-to-energy plant has to be incorporated into the local structure of district heating. If you build a capacity just because you need to build capacity, you will fail in ten years. You will have bad industry, which will not be able to compete, if the regulation changes a little bit. Plants regulated and protected too strongly by the government may not survive in the long run.

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