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Waste Import Tax In Denmark

June 2020

Denmark is considering ways of reducing refuse-derived fuel (RDF) imports, prompted, no doubt, by the taxes applied in the Netherlands and Sweden. True, if the example of the Netherlands is followed (€32 per tonne), imports will indeed fall (in the Dutch case, by as much as 50%). However, the unintended consequences would be insufficient feedstock for Danish EfW facilities (with implications for the municipal heat networks) and also the environmental damage if that displaced waste is landfilled in the UK. Unfortunately, ‘environmental damage’ in the form of additional atmospheric CO2 doesn't just remain over the UK, so all partner countries should consider the bigger picture when tempted by tax revenue opportunities.

Climate minister Dan Jørgensen and environment minister Lea Wermelin see a need to reduce waste incineration.

‘It's crazy that we import large quantities of waste into Denmark. We must reverse the trend so that we import and burn far less and recycle far more,’ said Danish Climate Minister Mr. Jørgensen at a recent presentation of the Government’s environmental initiatives.

A deadline of 2030 has been set for the Danish waste sector to achieve carbon-neutrality, as part of a wider climate package passed by the government in December 2019, aspiring for Denmark to be carbon neutral by 2050. Six legally-binding ‘pillars’ have been agreed, one of which specifically targets the waste sector:

The government's vision is a climate-neutral waste sector in 2030, and that 80% of the Danish plastic must be separated from the incineration stream by 2030. We need less combustion and import of waste and more sorting and recycling elsewhere. We want to make the circular economy a growth engine for Danish business. The initiatives in the area of ​​waste results in a reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions of DKK 0.7 million tonne CO2 equivalents in 2030’ (Climate Action Plan)

This exploration of a tax levy in Denmark, therefore, is not a mere tax-raising initiative but part of a wider environmental package. The mention of plastics is significant, because imported RDF contains a higher plastic content than domestic Danish post-sorting waste.

Denmark has 29 operational Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities with a headline capacity of 3.6 million tonnes per annum. In the past year, just over 100,000 tonnes of RDF was exported from England to Denmark, less than 3% of the Danish EfW feedstock. While it is certainly true that ’every little helps’, a reduction in the English RDF to Denmark is not going to have much impact on the overall CO2. Nor should this be viewed as a unilateral attack on the RDF from the UK; Denmark receives a similar tonnage of RDF/SRF from Germany also.

The blunt impact of the Dutch tax may well result in higher environmental damage through additional CO2 emissions, with half a million tonnes of English RDF needing to find an alternative outlet, landfill sites are beckoning. The Swedish waste import tax has not yet made a noticeable difference (only just applied in April). It can only be hoped that Denmark proceeds with wisdom and awareness, realising that the picture is more nuanced than the simple demonisation of waste imports. RDF is a fuel, processed to an end user’s specification and therefore with the possibility of reducing plastic content through specification rather than blanket tax additions.

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