Waste

Environmentalists protest against waste incinerator project in Sofia

Environmentalists protest against waste incinerator project in Sofia

Photo: Heat from waste is expensive and toxic (Za Zemiata)

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December 14, 2021

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December 14, 2021

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Waste incineration results in emissions of mercury, dioxins and furans, environmentalist group Za Zemiata said as it protested against the project for such a facility in Sofia. The practice is incompatible with separate collection and recycling and Bulgaria will need to import waste for the plant to work at full capacity, activists claim.

Bulgarian environmentalist organization Za Zemiata projected slogans against waste incineration on the cooling towers of thermal power plant Sofia, within its campaign against the planned facility of the kind. The activists said it would exacerbate the issues in waste management and air quality with which Sofia is failing to cope, and demanded the introduction of a functional system for separate collection and recycling.

Bulgarian construction company Mix-Construction and its consortium partners Osal Energy and Dongfang Electric were selected in July to build a combined heat and power (CHP) plant that would use refuse-derived fuel or RDF. Za Zemiata noted that the Commission on Protection of Competition has annulled the decision in October over procedural mistakes.

The Bulgarian competition authority annulled the tender in which a consortium won the deal to build the CHP incinerator

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has approved a EUR 67 million loan and the European Union earmarked funds from the Operational Program Environment 2014-2020. The capital city participates with EUR 10 million of its own funds in the EUR 179 million project.

However, Za Zemiata pointed to regular costs for staff and maintenance of EUR 91 million over the planned 26-year lifecycle of the plant, an estimated EUR 3.4 million per year in variable costs and planned incentives of EUR 59.5 million, all listed in the feasibility study.

Lack of information on health risks

“Health risks were greatly underestimated in the environmental assessment, and during the discussion, citizens disagreed with the proposal to take out a new loan. However, Sofia Municipality has moved forward with the implementation of the project. The decision was made in a very nontransparent way and despite the cases that were won, people still do not have access to full information about the pollution and financial performance of the proposed waste incineration plant,” says Desislava Stoyanova from Za Zemiata.

Za Zemiata: Incineration is incompatible with waste separation and recycling

The organization has been launching and supporting citizens’ lawsuits for years against the waste incineration plant and in other cases related to pollution.

Za Zemiata warned Sofia is in a valley with unfavorable air currents and that waste incineration results in emissions of mercury, dioxins and furans. The practice is incompatible with separate collection and recycling and Bulgaria will need to import waste for the plant to work at full capacity, activists claim.

Not enough RDF production capacity in Bulgaria

The organization said the incinerator in Sofia is expected to burn 180,000 tons of waste per year while that the country only produces one third of the volume of the RDF briquettes that are needed, implying waste would need to be imported. Plastics and paper are the most suitable for burning, and they are exactly the materials that should be recycled, activists point out.

A study conducted by the Sofia Municipality, also known as Stolichna Municipality, showed the incinerator would emits 20% more PM particles, 14% more sulfur dioxide and 10% more nitrogen oxides than the thermal power plant, the statement adds. Za Zemiata noted the European Commission didn’t include waste incineration on the list of technologies eligible for funding under the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.

The organization pointed to good examples of recycling systems in the towns of Gabrovo and Svilengrad.

Citizens protesting against waste incineration projects throughout Balkans

In neighboring Serbia, officials have recently hinted at the idea to install incinerators in the cities of Niš and Kragujevac. There are already numerous controversies about the ongoing CHP project in Belgrade, at the Vinča landfill. In Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, citizens and activists have been protesting against plans for incinerators of medical and municipal waste.

A plasma waste incineration project won a strategic investment status in North Macedonia.

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