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A waste-to-energy incinerator in Acerra, Italy in August 2019.

This story was originally published by Yale Environment 360 and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

For decades, Europe has poured millions of tons of its trash into incinerators each year, often under the green-sounding label “waste to energy.” Now, concerns about incineration’s outsized carbon footprint and fears it may undermine recycling are prompting European Union officials to ease their long-standing embrace of a technology that once seemed like an appealing way to make waste disappear.

The EU is in the process of cutting off funding for new incinerators, but there’s little sign most existing ones —currently consuming 27 percent of the bloc’s municipal waste — will close any time soon. And, even without EU financial support, new plants are in the works, many in southern and eastern European countries that have historically incinerated less than long-standing waste-to-energy proponents such as Germany, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian nations. Meanwhile, across the English Channel, post-Brexit Britain is charging ahead with proposals for dozens of new garbage-burning projects.

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