EU waste oil directive called into question

German officials call for revision after LCA finds regeneration not environmentally preferable

A study commissioned by the German environment agency has found that none of the main methods used to treat waste motor oils has an overall environmental advantage. Agency officials told ENDS Daily that an EU law on waste oil management should now be changed to remove a clause requiring member states to prioritise regeneration into lubricating oils over other methods.

Last year, Germany was condemned by the European Court of Justice for failing to give explicit priority to regeneration in law as required by the 1975 waste oils directive (ENDS Daily 9 September 1999). Germany is the only country yet to have been declared in breach of the directive, according to European Commission officials, who stressed that the judgement had set a precedent for the future.

Bizarrely, the European Commission brought the case against Germany even though the country in fact regenerates a far higher proportion of waste oils than any other EU country - 65% according to the agency. Officials speculated that the legal move had been taken because Germany had unused regeneration capacity but burned one-third of collected waste oil in cement kilns.

The life-cycle assessment (LCA) commissioned by the German environment agency compares regeneration with incineration in cement kilns, reprocessing to produce fuel oil and pressure gasification to produce methanol. It was carried out in accordance with international ISO standards for LCAs, the agency stressed.

Regeneration did not come top in any of the six environmental impact categories assessed. It emerged as being worst for soil acidification and second worst for particle emissions, carcinogenic substance emissions and demand for fossil resources.

Follow Up:
German environment agency, tel: +49 30 89030 and press release.

13/9/00 In this article, we incorrectly reported the study's detailed findings in the last paragraph through misinterpretation of data supplied by the German environment agency.

The LCA actually found that each of the four methods assessed emerged as the best environmental option in at least one of six environmental effects categories. Regeneration into new lubricating oils was best for reducing soil acidification, pressure gasification was best for lower hydrocarbon emissions, incineration in cement kilns was best for minimising greenhouse gas emissions, and processing into fuel oil was best for reducing cancer risk, particulate emissions and demand for non-renewable resources. All the study's calculations of net environmental benefit were made by comparing treatment methods with alternative, "primary" processes that would otherwise be used.

We would like to stress that our article correctly reported the environment agency's general conclusion that the study showed no waste oil treatment method to have an overall environmental advantage.

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