The Ministry of Ecology is preparing a standard for the quality of RDF fuel

Continued production of RDF will need to be certified to improve quality and ensure that there is no conflict with human health

Climate / Bulgaria
3E news
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Source: Sofia Municipality

Raya Lecheva

The Ministry of Environment and Water (MoEW) is about to form a working group that will develop quality standards and rules for certification of RDF fuel in our country, 3eNews has learned. Bulgaria has criminal proceedings due to the old landfills and accumulated huge amounts of RDF from 70 municipalities in the country, which have very poor performance, which is why almost no one wants to burn them. However, with these poor indicators, we cannot reduce emissions and improve air quality.

The continuing production of RDF will have to be certified in order to improve the quality and ensure that there is no conflict with health in particular, Georgi Stefanov, head of the office of Deputy Prime Minister for Climate Policy Borislav Sandov, told 3eNews. If there is poor recycling and high levels of chlorine-containing compounds in packaging, there will inevitably be harmful dioxins and furans, he added. The lack of standards for more than 14 years, although a European requirement has led to this condition. In fact, it is important to determine at what point in the life cycle waste becomes a raw material. Bulgaria's circular economy strategy is not yet ready, although it was due to be presented at the beginning of the year.

RDF fuel is a fragmented fraction produced from different types of waste, such as "municipal solid waste", industrial dry waste and waste from various commercial sites. In terms of composition, RDF is a mixture of materials with higher flammability (eg paper, plastic) compared to the components in the total waste stream. In Bulgaria, where garbage containers are mostly outdoors and high in moisture, the resulting RDF can be expected to be of poorer quality, analyzes show.

But what is the reality? Currently, only four companies have permits to incinerate waste. These are the cement plants Zlatna Panega and Devnya Cement, Holcim and Sliven District Heating. The companies pay 300 euros per cubic meter to burn imported waste, and the Bulgarian municipalities pay 30 euros per cubic meter and do not want to burn them because of the poorer quality. That is why the caretaker Minister Asen Lichev imposed a ban on the import of waste, but the quality of the incorrectly collected waste is not good for the production of good fuel, the Ministry of Ecology admits.

Certification of SRF waste

Along with the mandatory certification, the Ministry of Ecology is expected to implement the use of SRF waste, Stefanov said. Solid recovered fuel (SRF) is a high-quality alternative to fossil fuels and is produced mainly from commercial waste, including paper, wood, textiles and plastics. It has undergone additional processing to improve quality and value. It has a higher calorific value than RDF and is used in facilities such as cement kilns.

On the one hand, Bulgaria has not protected all the old landfills, and on the other hand, the new regional landfills are rapidly filling up due to improper waste separation, still a large share of landfills and a small share of recycling. According to the latest Report on the State of the Environment for 2020, our country does not achieve the national target for recycling of household waste of 50%. In the last five years, there has even been a double decline in recycled materials from 4.40% to 2.60%.

The problem of recycling and waste as a resource

According to European requirements, Bulgaria should dispose of only 10% of waste by 2035, and can burn about 20%. Currently, however, Bulgaria dumps 60% of the waste and incinerates about 7%, which may be a contradiction and somewhat stimulates incineration, said the Deputy Minister of Ecology Reneta Koleva. One thing is clear that by 2030, 90% of waste must become resources for new economic activities. This is the big problem with Sofia's waste and its plans for waste incineration. We cannot plan a mass replacement of coal with RDF, no matter how much we have accumulated volumes in the case of Sofia Municipality, knowing that we must stop using them for the next eight years, said Georgi Stefanov. We cannot develop a business plan based on this fuel base. The environmental problems are separate, as are the problems that the Bulgarian society sees in the incineration of RDF waste.

However, there is still no official information on whether Sofia will complete the project for the integrated waste management system. The third phase of the project envisages the production of RDF - fuel at the Sadinata site. The construction of the incinerator is funded by the Environment Program 2014-2020. On several occasions, the Deputy Prime Minister for Climate Policy and Minister of Environment and Water Borislav Sandov called on Sofia Municipality to abandon the project. However, the municipality commented that the project has been approved and must be implemented in order to complete the process of using waste. According to environmentalists, waste incineration is no longer a solution due to the higher rules of Brussels, Sofia's project will be almost the last with incinerators and catches almost the last train. During the new programming period, incineration will not be eligible for funding. It is possible that the project will not be implemented, which may be associated with a loss of funds for our country if it is not implemented in time.

With the installation we reduce the dependence of Sofia District Heating EAD on the import of natural gas and stabilize the price of heating. 10% of the natural gas used will be replaced by RDF fuel. This means a reduction in natural gas imports by nearly 65,000 m3. In the current situation of unclear supplies of natural gas and its space prices, this installation is an opportunity to stabilize the price of heating for end users, said Deputy Mayor of Sofia Desislava Bileva. This is the only project that can guarantee that the capital of Bulgaria will continue to achieve environmental European standards for landfill below 10%, she added.

The most serious argument against the plant is that it will not encourage the separate collection and recovery of waste, which is a priority for waste management instead of burning and landfilling. Its planned capacity is for the treatment of 180,000 tons of waste, which will most likely not be filled and will have to be transported from other municipalities or imported, environmentalists commented.

However, in the absence of effective separate collection, composting and calculation of the garbage fee according to the amount without incineration as an option, Bulgaria would hardly achieve these goals, said Ecology Minister Nikolay Sidjimov. According to him, the question is to what extent this plant should be built in the center of Sofia, and not next to the site for the municipal waste plant in the village of Yana. The current interim decision to transport RDF to the cement plants makes the municipality dependent on private operators. Once built, the plant will provide heat to 40,000 households and electricity to 30,000 households. The electricity will be provided to the national electricity network, and the heat energy - to the already existing district heating network in Sofia, Bileva added.

If we start separating the waste, we will not need combustion plants, commented the environmental association "For the Earth".

Budget for new laboratories for measuring dioxins and furans

In the budget for 2022, we envisage funds for new laboratories that can measure the amounts of harmful substances dioxins and furans, which cannot be measured with standard laboratory measurements, Stefanov explained. These are 35 highly toxic substances that pose a risk to human health and the environment. The requirement to have such laboratories is from 2004, which has not happened so far, added the head of the office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Climate Policy.

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