Are Waste-to-Energy Plants Big Dioxins Emitters?
European Waste-to-Energy plants have repeatedly demonstrated very low emissions and impact on their surroundings. Nonetheless, claims on their negative impact in terms of pollutant emissions remain.
In February, the French NGO Collectif 3R published a report – conducted by the Dutch organization ToxicoWatch – linking dioxins pollution to Waste-to-Energy plants. The target of the study was the Ivry-Paris 13 Waste-to-Energy plant and the claim made was that “record concentrations of dioxins were found in the surroundings of the plant”.
An article by Déchets Infos replied that: neither the report nor any of the articles by French media outlets that followed its publication explicitly “state that the incinerator is the sole or even the main cause of the high dioxin levels reported in the study” .
The Ministry for the Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, answering a parliamentary question on the topic assured that “Dioxins from the Ivry incinerator are monitored by accredited laboratories. […] No anomalies have been noted to date from these monitoring and emissions from the Ivry plant are compliant with the European regulations on discharges from incineration installations.”
Indeed, the public misconception of WtE plants as a major source of dioxins does not reflect the current situation. Today, dioxin emissions from WtE account for less than 0.2% of the total industrial dioxin emissions. Since 1989, European WtE plants are subject to specific stringent legislation to prevent and monitor pollution. This legislation has been continuously tightened throughout the years making the Waste-to-Energy sector one of the most strictly regulated industrial sectors in Europe.
As proof of this, two studies, conducted by the Polytechnic University of Milan concluded that the contribution of WtE plant emission to ambient concentration levels, in the surroundings of the plants that were the object of study, was extremely modest and added that, observed levels of dioxins could be attributable to other sources distributed over the area (residential biomass burning, road transport and some industrial process activities arising as the most significant contributors).
If you wish to know more about Waste-to-Energy plants and the emissions they generate and learn how are these emissions regulated, how are they measured, whether they are harmful, and what the plants do to prevent them, check out the recording of ESWET’s most recent webinar.
 ToxicoWatch (2022), Recherche en biosurveillance Paris / Ivry-sur-Seine, 2021. Available here.
 Guichardaz, Dossier “Incinération et dioxines” (February 2022), Déchets Infos, n°224, internal translation from FR, available here: https://dechets-infos.com/dechets-infos-n-224-16-fevrier-2022-4927220.html
 The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register, https://industry.eea.europa.eu/#/home
 See the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Waste Incineration Bref
 Case study #1 – Lonati et al., 2019. The actual impact of waste-to-energy plant emissions on air quality: a case study from Northern Italy. Detritus, 6, 77-84.
Case study #2 – Lonati et al., 2022. Air Quality Impact Assessment of a Waste-to-Energy Plant: Modelling Results vs. Monitored Data. Atmosphere, 13(4), 516