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New levy instead of relief? There are also higher costs for waste

Waste incineration plants are to be included in emissions trading in Germany in the future.

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New levy instead of relief? There are also higher costs for waste

Waste incineration plants are to be included in emissions trading in Germany in the future. This would mean that plant operators would have to pay taxes for every tonne of CO₂ that is produced when waste is incinerated. At least that's what the Federal Government's draft for the amendment to the Fuel Emissions Trading Act (BEHG), which will be discussed in the Bundesrat on Friday, envisages.

According to the will of the traffic light coalition, the regulation promoted by the green-led Federal Ministry of Economics should apply from January 2023. In the first year, 35 euros per tonne of CO₂ would then be due, in the following year 45 euros and in 2025 even 55 euros.

But the outcry is great. "We cannot understand that in the current crisis situation, in which the federal government is desperately looking for ways to relieve the citizens, additional burdens in the billions are to be triggered," complains Ingbert Liebing, the general manager of the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU), for example which also owns the waste disposal companies of cities and municipalities that operate numerous waste incineration plants.

The industry association estimates the costs incurred at almost one billion euros in the first year. “We have to pass on this burden. That would result in significantly higher garbage fees,” announces Liebing.

The Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies (GdW) is similarly clear. "Another financial burden on tenants through higher waste fees, in addition to skyrocketing energy prices, is disproportionate and antisocial," says general manager Ingeborg Esser. Especially since the levy is not at all effective because it has no steering effect.

The declared goal of national emissions trading, which has been in force since the beginning of 2021, is to give the economy and consumers a boost in the direction of environmentally and climate-friendly technologies. Since then, a CO₂ price has been due for petrol, diesel, heating oil and natural gas, for example.

Heating and refueling with fossil fuels became noticeably more expensive even before the price explosions caused by the Ukraine war. The idea behind it: Targeted price increases make switching to clean energies more attractive and reduce emissions of climate-damaging substances.

In the opinion of VKU and GdW, however, this principle cannot be transferred one-to-one to the waste sector. "Waste is not produced like fuel," explains municipal representative Liebing. “In any case, they accumulate and must be disposed of safely. There is even a statutory disposal order for this. In other words, oil can stay in the ground, but waste cannot stay in the bin. A CO₂ price will not change that.”

Michael Thews, who represents the SPD in the environment committee of the German Bundestag and is the rapporteur for the area of ​​circular economy and resource protection, also thinks so. “Carbon pricing is an indispensable tool for defossilization. However, operators of waste incineration plants have no influence on the quantity and composition of the waste,” criticizes the politician.

50 percent of the waste alone is, for example, hazardous waste, sewage sludge or sorting residues that have to be incinerated by law and therefore inevitably produce CO₂. Thews therefore advocates setting the CO₂ price with the manufacturers of plastic.

"If waste incineration is now priced, the last person in the chain will have to pay the CO₂ price, which will have no impact on the composition of the waste being less plastic." In any case, dumping the costs on the citizens on a national basis is not the right way.

And Thews sees a second danger from the planned amendment in addition to increasing waste fees: that in future large quantities of waste will be transported to neighboring countries.

Andreas Freund, the managing director of the waste disposal and recycling company in Cologne (AVG), fears the same thing. Especially when it comes to commercial waste. Because it's cheaper there," explains Freund. There, however, landfilling, which is particularly harmful to the climate, is still permitted in some cases.

"In addition, there is a lack of residual waste to provide energy in the form of electricity and heat through the thermal waste treatment plants. In times when energy is scarce and expensive, this is a fatal development and only leads to even more dependence on fossil fuels.”

And indeed, almost all waste incineration plants have a combined heat and power system and generate electricity and district heating for millions of households as well as process steam for industry.

The AVG, together with the municipal association VKU and the housing industry, is now calling for the expansion of fuel emissions trading to be suspended, at least for the waste sector, which is to become one of two new areas of application of the BEHG alongside coal-fired power plants. "This government draft must not become law," says VKU boss Liebing. He is now relying on the parliamentarians in the Bundestag.

And in fact, by no means all MPs are behind the draft law, not even from their own ranks, as the case of Thews shows, who is after all the waste policy spokesman for the Social Democratic parliamentary group. There are also FDP representatives who have already expressed criticism.

In the middle of the week, the Economic Committee and the Environment Committee of the Federal Council also positioned themselves. Both bodies recommend postponing the inclusion of waste incineration in the national emissions trading system by two years due to the current difficult situation in the energy supply. What follows from this must now be shown in plenary session number 1024. Thews suggests ultimately striving for a European solution instead of going it alone nationally. Especially since the topic has long been discussed at EU level.

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