Is Denmark leaving the dark age of Waste burning?

It might seem unlikely but a recent apparent u-turn on waste management policy in Denmark could be in the offing. It’s all driven by the 2050 EU goals of Emissions reduction.

We applaud Denmark’s environment minister Ida Auken who recently announced a new strategy that changes the nation’s priority from incineration to recycling. Make no mistake about it, this is a monumental shift for Europe’s biggest waste burner. Anyone visiting Denmark notices the Incinerator stacks too frequently and the bottom ash heaps in Copenhagen harbour are ugly indeed.

So why has the world champion of waste incineration changed course?

Over 50% of Denmark’s household waste is burned at incinerator plants that convert waste into energy for residential electricity and heat. However, C02 emission levels are exceeding the goals set by the Kyoto Protocol and sources of POPs need to be shut down. The country aims at becoming independent from fossil fuel by 2050 and this means having to close down all polluting power plants by then, including of course the offending waste-to-energy incinerators.

This will not be an easy task given the extent of Incineration in Denmark today. The perverse economic incentives of Incineration run contrary to waste reduction, reuse and recycling. It also delays new cleaner electricity generation from taking hold, such as the Wind energy sector. Dumping incineration gives a double whammy – reduced Co2, POPs emissions, lower volumes of waste and the bonus – a waste recycling and re-use industry can develop, creating new jobs.

”In Denmark we have been incinerating almost 80% of our household waste. Even though this has made an important contribution to green energy production, materials and resources have been lost which could otherwise have been recycled. Now, we are going to change this” said Auken.

Auken will drive a pro-recycling strategy that calls for households to sort their waste into several bins rather than sending the majority of it to the incinerator. ‘Recycling should be common sense and come to us naturally,’ the environment minister declared. ‘Danes will have to sort more of their waste. The goal is definitely to recycle more and incinerate less.’

Welcome to the 21st Century, Denmark! Those dark, smoke filled days will be just a bad charred memory for the next generation of Danes.

The Government strategy is outlined in the published report ‘Denmark without Waste’. October 2013, which has a tagline of ‘recycle more – incinerate less’. You can download the Danish Environment Ministry’s report to read more.