Swiss waste law provokes incinerator shortfall

Ban on landfilling of combustible waste exposes bottleneck in incinerator capacity

The Swiss environment agency has announced emergency measures to deal with a shortfall in waste incinerator capacity provoked by a law banning landfilling of combustible municipal waste. In force since 1 January, the ordinance has meant an extra 600,000 tonnes of wastes per year require incineration, the agency said on Friday, and the country's existing facilities "can't keep up".

Switzerland is already notable in European terms for the high proportion of municipal waste that it incinerates. The country also recycles more waste than most other countries, so the government always expected that the landfill ban would place pressure on incineration capacity (ENDS Daily 8 May 1998). The problem has been made worse by resumed growth in waste generation since 1997, the year after the 2000 landfill ban was approved. In 1999 alone, the agency says, combustible waste generation rose by 5% to exceed 3m tonnes.

A series of temporary measures designed to deal with a 10% shortfall in incinerator capacity include compelling local authorities that have not yet complied with the 1996 ordinance to build incineration capacity or make deals with neighbouring authorities to send waste to them. High calorific value waste from vehicle crushing facilities are being exported to German incinerators on a temporary basis. Imports of waste for incineration that are not subject to long-term contracts have been stopped.

The incinerator bottleneck should be eased by entry into service of a new plant at Niederurnen in the autumn with a capacity of 50,000 tonnes per year, the agency says. A new incinerator due to start up at Fribourg in summer 2001 will add a further 88,000 tonnes capacity, it adds, but even this will not fully balance supply and demand. In the medium term, the agency pledges to achieve a better geographical distribution of incinerators around the country, which it says could limit waste transports and ensure better technical efficiency of operations, resulting in lower costs.

In the meantime, it has called on local authorities to attempt "at least" to stabilise quantities of combustible waste arising by further expanding recycling collection systems and encouraging selective collection through new financial incentives.

Follow Up:
Swiss environment agency, tel: +41 31 322 8999.

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