In India and Egypt as well as in the USA waste management can contribute significantly more to climate protection than at present.
The climate protection potentials of waste management in these three countries – as well as other OECD und EU member states – are far from exhausted. The methane emissions that are primarily caused by the landfilling of waste play a significant role in the worsening of their greenhouse gas (GHG) balance. To significantly reduce greenhouse gases by means of increased recycling, the USA should promote the expansion of an integrated closed loop materials management. This is shown in a new study that has been conducted by IFEU Heidelberg and Oeko-Institut on behalf of the German Federal Environment Agency.
Large recycling potentials
This study analyzes the climate protection potentials of waste management for the OECD countries, 28 EU countries and in three detailed analyses for India, Egypt and the United States. The most important challenge for the latter countries is organized recycling: in Egypt and India, for example, waste is largely disposed of in unmanaged landfills without further pretreatment. The collection, sorting and recovery of waste is carried out solely by the informal sector, i.e. by private individuals and organizations who collect and sort waste or seek out recyclables on landfills in very difficult conditions.
The expansion of managed collection and recovery of recyclables and the incineration of non-recyclable residual waste in efficient waste incineration plants can, in the best scenario, reduce GHG emissions by 25 million tons per year in India and approx. 14 million tons per year in Egypt. To achieve this, the two countries would have to develop and implement stringent political and legal requirements, e.g. in the form of waste management legislation.
“When introducing such legislation, countries need to take their informal structures into account,” says Günter Dehoust, Deputy Head of the Infrastructure & Enterprises Division at the Oeko-Institut and an expert on waste management. “Many people are working there today who – manually and often unfortunately under poor working conditions – are carrying out a large share of the recycling. It is urgently necessary that the health and safety conditions are improved and, at the same time, that their jobs are protected. In addition, the negative effects of waste treatment on the environment must be minimized.”
USA: Landfilling is impeding climate protection
The large share of landfilled waste is preventing efficient climate protection and resource conservation not only in developing countries, but also in the USA. The USA disposes of more than half its urban waste in landfills; only around a quarter is recycled. Therefore, an increase in recycling rates and efficient waste incineration with energy recovery can reduce GHG emissions by up to 160 million tons each year in the USA.
For all OECD countries in total, the study shows potential savings of 353 million tons, and for the EU-28 of 91 million tons, of GHG emissions.