Austrian waste treatment challenge assessed

Environment agency finds mechanical-biological treatment has future role if standards are improved

Mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) of domestic waste can contribute to environmentally sound waste management if standards can be improved at all stages, according to a study released by the Austrian environment agency. Existing mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) plants in Austria do not observe suitable standards, the agency stresses.

Using approved life-cycle assessment methodologies, the study compares various combinations of treatment methods, both in MBT plants themselves and during subsequent landfilling and incineration of residues. High environmental standards are needed at all three stages to achieve an acceptable overall environmental profile, the study concludes.

Strong in Austria and also in neighbouring Germany, the MBT industry has been under increasing pressure to improve its environmental standards. The method - which involves various sorting, composting and other treatment steps - cannot meet Austrian and German legal targets for limiting the carbon content of residual waste going to landfills. In addition, it produces relatively high levels of air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), leading the Austrian environment agency last year to rate MBT as "un-ecological" (ENDS Daily 16 June 1999).

Noting that MBT is "a given fact" in Austria, the agency's new study tries instead to identify best practices for the method in combination with high quality landfilling and incineration techniques. High quality control of air pollutants such as VOCs and ammonia at MBT plants is necessary, it says. High calorific value residual wastes should be incinerated at plants that cogenerate heat and power, and landfills should operate to "theoretical best" standards, particularly for limiting methane emissions.

Follow Up:
Austrian environment agency, tel: +43 1 31 30 40. See also Potential Developments of Mechanical-Biological Treatment of Waste, {English summary}.

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