Waste Treatment (WT BREF)

From plastic to electronic scrap, waste is on the rise all across Europe. The average EU citizen produces almost 500kg of waste a year, only 30% of which is recycled.

Much of the waste we produce is treated by waste management facilities that apply biological, mechanical and chemical processes. Such treatments aim to reduce the amount and hazardous nature of the waste.

However, most waste treatment installations also emit carbon dioxide, ammonia and particulate matter into the air, as well as heavy metals and organic chemicals that contaminate water and soil.

The EU BREF on waste treatment (WT BREF) sets binding minimum performance standards for these installations, aiming to prevent / minimise the negative impact that waste treatment operations can have on the environment.

Process and current status

The review of the WT BREF is finalised and the implementation phase has started. 

These standards were developed in 2006 and reviewed in 2013. The revised standards were published in the EU Official Journal in August 2018[CS1] [RA2] , triggering a maximum four-year deadline by which installations across the EU must comply with the updated requirements. In cases where the BAT conclusions are published before the installation permit is issued, the installations in question must immediately comply with the requirements.

NGOs operating at the national level are advised to closely follow the permitting process. The EEB has prepared a guide [CS3] [RA4] [RA5] to assist them in this mission, offering a first introduction to the topic (for example what these requirements are, the scope of sectors and activities to which they apply) and specific recommendations for selected industry sectors.

The review in a nutshell

The overall outcome of the review is considered positive because of the following improvements:

  • For air pollution, diffuse emissions of dust and heavy metals should be captured and properly treated in shredders of metal waste as well as new requirements to prevent deflagrations.
  • For Waste water discharge, a strengthening of requirements relating to indirect discharges to urban waste water treatment plants were set. This concerns in particular toxic heavy metals or other persistent pollutants. 

On the downside, the ambition level has been compromised on several aspects, notably:

  • For biological treatment processes, such as the treatment of manure, the requirements on odour and ammonia emissions have been significantly weakened.
  • The BAT-AEL set for the air pollutants of mechanical biological treatment also do not reflect BAT levels. 
  • The provisions on the management of hazardous wastes is too vague to input controls to prevent dilution or routing to inefficient treatment options. 

More details on those aspects are developed in the NGO Implementation guide. 


Aliki Kriekouki, Senior Technical Officer for Industrial Production: aliki.kriekouki@eeb.org 

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