Waste Incineration

Waste Incineration

Implementation of European Council Directive 2000/76/EC on the Incineration of Waste

The Regulatory Framework

The Waste Incineration Directive (WID) introduces stringent operating conditions and sets minimum technical requirements for waste incineration and co-incineration 1. It consolidates new and existing incineration controls into a single piece of European legislation.

The requirements of the Directive have been developed to reflect the ability of incineration plants to more cost effectively achieve high standards of emission control in comparison to the 1980s. Previous waste incineration directives only applied to municipal and hazardous waste. The Waste Incineration Directive updates the requirements of the 1989 municipal waste incineration (MWI) directives (89/429/EEC and 89/369/EEC) and, merging them into the 1994 Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive (94/67/EC), consolidates new and existing incineration controls into a single piece of European legislation.

It covers virtually all waste incineration, and co-incineration plants, going beyond the plant previously covered by incineration directives. Additionally, it also replaces Article 8(1) and the Annex to the Waste Oil Directive (75/439/EEC) thus extending the scope of incineration controls to cover the burning of waste oils.


The Waste Framework Directive 2 (Articles 9, 10 and 11) requires either a permit for waste disposal and recovery operations ( see Annex 3) or the registration of a permit exemption. The operations subject to control under the Waste Framework Directive include “D10 Incineration on land” and “R1 Use [of waste] principally as a fuel or other means to generate energy”. Directive 84/360/EC (on the combating of air pollution from industrial plants) also requires the prior authorisation of plants for the disposal of toxic and dangerous waste by incineration and of plants for the treatment by incineration of other solid and liquid waste. The municipal and Hazardous Waste Incineration Directives referred to above contain the more detailed incineration controls which are to be applied through these permits.

The Waste Incineration Directive appears to allow such licensing exemptions to continue, notably for the disposal of non-hazardous waste at the place of its production and the recovery of non-hazardous waste (Article 4(1)). However, any incinerator currently covered by a licensing exemption would nevertheless still need to be subjected to the onerous requirements of the WID.

Some incinerators are subject to the requirements of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC).

Once Waste Incineration Directive applies to new or existing plant, it replaces the existing incineration directives on municipal waste incineration (89/429/EEC and 89/369/EEC) and the Hazardous Waste Incineration (94/67/EC) as well as Article 8(1) and the Annex to the Waste Oil Directive (75/439/EEC).

The Scope of the Waste Incineration Directive

WID applies to “incineration plant” and “co-incineration plant”. The definition of these terms determines the scope of the Directive.

WID must be applied to all incinerators as described in Article 3(4) of the Directive, which provides a definition of “incineration” plant: “incineration plant means any stationary or mobile technical unit and equipment dedicated to the thermal treatment of waste with or without recovery of the combustion heat generated. This includes the incineration by oxidation of waste as well as other thermal treatment processes such as pyrolysis gasification or plasma processes insofar as the substances resulting from the treatment are subsequently incinerated.”

The definition then also goes on to list a range of related operations around the plant itself which will also be covered by the definition. The tests to meet the terms of the definition are that the activity must take place in a “technical unit” and that the activity must involve the “thermal treatment of waste”.


Open burning can definitely be said not to be occurring within a technical unit, but arguably any sort of container (for example a drum) could potentially be described as a technical unit. Interpretation of “technical unit” will determine the sorts of plant to which WID requirements attach.

Since the definition of an incineration plant includes references to “technical” and “equipment”, both of which suggest a degree of refinement, the Executive is of the view that the scope of WID applies only to more sophisticated units and those which are dedicated to thermal treatment (see below). Containers such as drums are unlikely, therefore, to fall within the scope of WID.


The definition of ‘incineration plant’ in WID makes it clear that thermal treatment has to occur. The definition clarifies that technologies such as pyrolysis, gasification and plasma are included within this definition provided that the substances resulting from the first stage of treatment are themselves incinerated. The substances resulting from the first stage are usually in gaseous form. These gases can be subsequently incinerated themselves and in this case the incineration plant would fall under WID. It should be noted that this subsequent incineration could occur off-site.

The first stage gases can also be used directly in the manufacture of products with no release of the gas. In this case the Executive is of the opinion that such plants that dispose of these gases without incineration would not be covered by WID.


WID must also be applied to all co-incinerators as described in Article 3(5) of the Directive, which offers the following definition of “co-incineration” plant: “…any stationary or mobile plant whose main purpose is the generation of energy or production of material products and;

which uses waste as a regular or additional fuel; or

in which waste is thermally treated for the purpose of disposal.

If co-incineration takes place in such a way that the main purpose of the plant is not the generation of energy or production of material products but rather the thermal treatment of waste, the plant shall be regarded as an incineration plant…”

WID requirements for co-incineration of waste apply to plants whose main purpose is the production of energy or material products. If co-incineration takes place in such a way that the main purpose of the plant has changed primarily to the thermal treatment of waste, WID requirements for incineration plant will apply. Furthermore, if in a co-incineration plant more than 40% of the resulting heat release comes from hazardous waste, the emission limit values for incinerators will apply.

A further issue that will determine the scope of “co-incineration” is the interpretation of the definition of “waste” in relation to substances which are used as a fuel. This issue is further discussed below.

The definition of “co-incineration” refers not only to using the waste as fuel, but to thermally treating it for the purpose of disposal. This widens the scope of WID to include combustion and manufacturing plants which return their waste streams to a boiler, thus causing those streams to be regarded as being disposed of, rather than recovered. There may be some industrial processes that return waste streams to boilers that are unaware they may be subject to WID. These waste streams may be referred to as “off-cuts” or “by-products”. This material may legally need to be classed as waste, and hence the processes would be subject to WID.

Finally, the Executive is of the view that “waste…thermally treated for the purpose of disposal” applies to waste treated by one or more of the disposal operations listed in Annex II to the Waste Framework Directive, although not all of these will be relevant. Annex II to that Directive is reproduced as Annex 4 to this paper. It may also be that one of the recovery operations listed in Annex II might also be relevant to the application of WID to co-incinerators, namely R9 – “use principally as a fuel or other means to generate energy”.


The definition of “waste” determines the substances covered by WID and Article 3(1) provides that “‘waste’ means any solid or liquid waste as defined in Article 1(a) of Directive 75/442/EEC” – the Waste Framework Directive – see Box 3. Article 3(13) also provides that “residue” is defined by reference to the definition of waste in Article 1(a) of the Waste Framework Directive. Whether or not a substance is waste must be determined on the facts of the case and in the light of judgements by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The Waste Framework Directive definition of “waste” is “any substance or object in the categories set out in Annex I [of the Waste Framework Directive] which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard”


Article 1 of WID provides that the Directive’s aims are also to be met through meeting the requirements of the Waste Framework Directive. That Directive requires waste disposal and recovery operations to be carried out under the terms of a permit issued by the competent authority 5. However, Article 2 of the Waste Framework Directive provides that some types of waste are excluded from the scope of that Directive. Exclusion by virtue of Article 2 of the Waste Framework Directive does not mean that a substance is not “waste”. In addition, the fact that the disposal or recovery of waste excluded by virtue of Article 2 of the Waste Framework Directive, which means it does not require a permit under that Directive, does not result in it not requiring a permit for the purposes of the WID.

Article 2 of the WID provides that the Directive covers incineration and co-incineration plants and Article 4(1) provides that 6 no such plant shall operate without a “permit” as defined in Article 3(12). The only plant excluded from the scope of the WID, therefore, are those set out in Article 2(2) of that Directive – see below.


WID lists, in Article 2(2), a number of plants to be excluded from the scope of the Directive provided they treat only the specified waste streams. The following paragraphs explore those which may need further interpretation.

Pulp Waste (Article 2.2(a)(iii))

This Article exempts fibrous vegetable waste from virgin pulp production and from production of paper from pulp, if it is co-incinerated at the place of production and the heat generated is recovered. The Executive is of the opinion that this exempts the co-incineration of wastes from virgin and non-virgin pulp-making, provided this happens on the site of waste generation and the heat generated is recovered.

Wood Waste (Article 2.2(a)(iv))

The Article excludes from WID wood waste with the exception of wood waste which may contain halogenated organic compounds or heavy metals as a result of treatment with wood-preservatives or coating, and which includes in particular such wood waste originating from construction and demolition waste. The Executive is of the view that wood cannot be taken to include paper and card.

Radioactive Waste (Article 2.2(a)(vi))

This Article excludes radioactive waste from WID controls. In terms of environmental impact, it is the composition of the waste and the conditions under which it is combusted that determine the mass and concentration of the pollutants emitted. If radioactive waste is burned, it is controlled under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. If the radioactivity in the waste is under a certain limit, the waste is exempted from the controls in the 1993 Act. In such cases, if the waste stream is regarded as radioactive and handled accordingly, there is an argument that the waste could be exempted from the provisions of WID provided the plant treats only radioactive waste.

However, since the Euratom Treaty, which is the Treaty base for the control of disposal of radioactive substances, is not referred to in the preamble to WID, there is an argument that WID cannot apply to radioactive substances in respect of their radioactive properties. In that case, it could be argued that the provisions of WID would apply if the other, non-radioactive properties of the waste fell within the definition of hazardous waste in Article 1(4) of Directive 91/689/EEC (which is the definition of hazardous waste used in WID).

Animal Carcasses (Article 2.2(a)(vii))

This exclusion refers to animal carcasses regulated by Directive 90/667/EEC (the Animal Waste Directive, due to be replaced by the Animal By-products Regulation). The existing regulatory framework for animal carcass incinerators will remain. The Animal By-products Regulation, currently being negotiated at European Community level, involves consideration of its relationship with WID. The Regulation is expected to apply in Member States in the first half of 2003. Incinerators that burn only animal carcasses will be able to be approved under the Animal By-products Regulation rather than WID. However, in either case a PPC permit, as now, will still be required. WID will apply to incinerators which burn meat and bone meal, tallow or material other than animal carcasses, even if they burn animal carcasses as well. It is not clear whether the exemption from WID for animal carcasses applies to parts of animal carcasses as well as to whole carcasses. The European Commission has undertaken to clarify the position.

Issues Arising from the Directive

Article 4 of WID requires permit applications to be made. This is without prejudice to the IPPC Directive’s requirements which specify the minimum contents of an application for a permit (in Article 6 of that Directive). The application requirements of WID (in Article 4(2)) are therefore additional application requirements to those where a PPC permit is also required.


The operating conditions for incinerators and co-incinerators, including parameters that must be met, are prescribed by Article 6 of WID.


It is likely that many non-traditional plants (for example pyrolysis plant or cyclone incinerators) will be unable to meet the requirements in WID for temperature and or residence time. Permits may authorise certain types of waste and certain thermal processes where there are “conditions” different from those of Article 6(1), (2) and (3). This is only allowed: for incinerators, where the change of the operational conditions does not result in more residues or residues with a higher content of organic pollutants; and for co-incinerators, which, as a minimum meet the air emission limit values for carbon monoxide and total organic carbon set out in Annex V to WID.

There are three respects in which implementation of Articles 6(1) and 6(4) need to be reconciled:

a) Can total organic carbon (TOC) limits be set higher than 3% when there is also a requirement for preventing ‘…residues with a higher content of organic pollutants’? The Executive proposes that TOC should be considered as a condition that can be derogated under Article 6.4.

b) The exclusion of elemental carbon from TOC may result in a conflict with the requirement of ‘shall not cause more residues’. Pyrolysis results in residues with a high carbon content, but it is elemental carbon, not organic carbon. The Executive proposes that an elemental carbon limit should be imposed which represents BAT for a particular technology.

c) If the final paragraph of Article 6(1) (relating to start-up fuels) is considered to be a requirement that can be derogated under Article 6(4), it will conflict with Article 6(3). The Executive therefore proposes that start-up fuels should not be defined as a condition under Article 6(1) and hence this requirement should not be derogated.

Annex V allows for the derogation of NO x emission limit values until year 2010 (depending on the size of the incinerator). The derogated limits are higher than those currently applied in Scotland by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for larger plants. The Executive proposes not to relax the current limits for such plants and invites comments on whether this derogation should be applied to other plants.

WID specifies a limit of 0.1 ng/m3 for dioxins and furans (Article 3(10) defines them as the 17 “ITEQ” 7 polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans listed in Annex I of the Directive. Dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have similar toxicities but are not included in the WID limit. The Executive is of the opinion that at this stage it will require only the limits for those compounds listed in Annex I to be set in permits for compliance and enforcement purposes but that it is desirable for regulators to use their powers to collect data on dioxin-like PCBs.

In response to the European Commission’s Communication for a Community Strategy for Dioxins, Furans and PCBs, the Environment Council has requested that the Commission address the issue of integrated standards for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. This may eventually require limits to be based on dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.


Article 7(5) allows emission limits to be set for polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other pollutants. The Executive proposes that SEPA should set emission limits for PAHs or other pollutants in individual permits to control emissions so that national and EU limit values and objectives for ambient concentrations are not exceeded.


Public consultation and access to information as required by Article 12(2) are both covered by the PPC Regulations. For incinerators with a capacity of two tonnes or more per hour, there is an additional requirement to produce an annual report on the functioning and monitoring of the plant. This should cover the running of the process and emissions to air and water compared with the emission limits in WID. The report must be provided to SEPA and made publicly available. The Executive proposes that SEPA should include this as a permit condition.

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