Mitigating SLCPs from the Municipal Solid Waste Sector

About

Landfills are the third largest source of anthropogenic methane (CH4) emissions, accounting for approximately 11% of estimated global methane emissions. The municipal solid waste sector is also a significant source of black carbon through open burning of waste its transport by outdated and polluting vehicles. The sector is responsible for both near and long -term climate impacts and creates serious air pollution in cities, affecting human health. Population growth, urbanisation and changing consumption patterns, means the amount municipal solid waste will nearly double worldwide by 2025, increasing pressure on cities to manage this growing economic, environmental, and social challenge.

In many communities, waste management has to compete with other city services for funds, leaving many without basic collection and disposal services, leading to the open burning of waste. Cities often rely on informal waste pickers, typically from impoverished and marginalized groups working in hazardous conditions, to help address this growing burden. Uncontrolled leachate contaminates ground water and increases incidence of vector-borne diseases. Reducing SLCPs through well-managed waste systems will contribute to overall efforts to mitigate climate change and have significant health, environmental, and economic co-benefits, including improved quality of life for local communities.

The Municipal Solid Waste Initiative (MSWI) runs webinars and shares information through its knowledge platform.

Top facts

Almost half the waste generated worldwide is municipal solid waste, and amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes. One person generates annually waste equal to 7 times their weight worldwide.
Globally, 600 waste-to-energy plants combusting more than 130 million tonnes of MSW waste are able to produce roughly the amount of energy needed to satisfy Italy's annual electricity consumption.
Globally, about one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to about 1.3 billion tonnes every year.

Top facts

  • Almost half the waste generated worldwide is municipal solid waste, and amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes. One person generates annually waste equal to 7 times their weight worldwide.
  • Globally, 600 waste-to-energy plants combusting more than 130 million tonnes of MSW waste are able to produce roughly the amount of energy needed to satisfy Italy's annual electricity consumption.
  • Globally, about one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to about 1.3 billion tonnes every year.

News feed

17 - 20 October, 2016

Event

Quito, Ecuador

News feed

Initiative contacts

Municipal Solid Waste Initiative Coordinator
Sandra.Mazo-Nix.Affiliate [at] unep.org

Plan, action and progress

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Who is involved

Partners (27)

Canada
Lead
Japan
Lead
Mexico
Lead
United States of America
Lead
C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40)
Lead

Partners (27)

Canada
Lead
Japan
Lead

Actors

36

FAQ

What is the significance of SLCPs in the waste sector?

Globally, landfills are the third largest anthropogenic source of methane, accounting for approximately 11% of estimated global methane emissions, or nearly 800 MtCO2e.  Uncollected waste can contribute to open burning and illegal landfilling or open dumping, contributors to methane and black carbon. 

The World Bank projects that municipal solid waste streams will nearly double worldwide by 2025, which not only places increasing pressure on cities to provide proper collection and management services in order to avoid open dumping and open burning, but also significantly increases the load on the environment in terms of air pollutants like methane and black carbon within a business-as-usual scenario.

What are benefits from improving waste management?

More efficient collection of waste and sanitary landfills as opposed to open dumping helps keep cities cleaner and thus improves surrounding ecosystem health.

Improvement of waste management systems is one of the best ways for cities to enhance real estate values and overall local value and quality of life. While waste management will always ultimately incur economic costs for a city, as a public service that needs to be provided, appropriate waste management strategies can reduce costs from environmental damage and help improve a city’s marketability. Proper waste management can create significant job opportunities as well. A recent study published by the European Commission shows that full implementation of EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year, increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020.

Waste can also be a resource.  For some cities, generating energy from waste either through landfill gas capture or incineration as a part of an integrated solid waste management plan has the potential to help offset fossil fuel derived energy sources and therefore improve resource efficiency. Additionally, compost produced from organic waste can be used as a soil amendment displacing synthetic fertilizers comprised of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. 

What about food waste?

Food waste is addressed through one of the elements of an integrated solid waste management system through the diversion of organics. Organics management is a challenge to both developed and developing cities like New York City and Penang (Malaysia). A range of technologies exists to avoid emissions of methane from decomposition of organic waste in landfills and dumps, from processing organic waste simple windrow composting to anaerobic digestion technology. Food waste can also be addressed through prevention, for example awareness raising, and outreach and incentive programs. The Initiative will continue to feature cities like New York and Penang who have specific expertise to share with the network in order to scale up successes across the globe.

Furthermore, the Initiative has identified that a key challenge to the sustainability of organics programs that is not commonly addressed by the industry is how to create a market for the generated compost or other products.  That is why the World Bank is designing a results-based incentive mechanism to increase the diversion of organic waste in Penang and is developing a learning tool to help cities from both developed or developing countries on creating sustainable markets for composting to ensure the success of their food waste and organics programs.

What is the hoped-for magnitude of SLCP reductions achievable through the work of the initiative?

In the waste sector, it is important to note that reductions are guaranteed as you move up the waste hierarchy, from open dumping to waste avoidance. However, because the widely varying situations in the world – for example waste composition, climate, economic and social consequences, there is no standardized approach to easily calculate the magnitude of SLCP reduction via waste management efforts.  

Although estimates can be made based on proxies, they will not be realistic or verifiable.  The initiative has begun work to build a calculator to be able to quantify baseline emissions and projected emissions reductions with standardized methodology. We expect the tool to be functional by October. 

Again, rapid action to reduce black carbon and methane can be achieved through banning open burning, optimizing transportation routes and upgrading equipment, diverting organics etc. However these activities cannot be implemented alone as there are considerations for economic and social challenges. That is why the initiative supports the development of tailored integrated solid waste management at the local and national levels. The initiative stresses that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

In the waste sector, it is important to note that reductions are guaranteed as you move up the waste hierarchy, from open dumping to waste avoidance. However, because the widely varying situations in the world – for example waste composition, climate, economic and social consequences, there is no standardized approach to easily calculate the magnitude of SLCP reduction via waste management efforts.  

Although estimates can be made based on proxies, they will not be realistic or verifiable.  The initiative has begun work to build a calculator to be able to quantify baseline emissions and projected emissions reductions with standardized methodology. We expect the tool to be functional by October. 

Again, rapid action to reduce black carbon and methane can be achieved through banning open burning, optimizing transportation routes and upgrading equipment, diverting organics etc. However these activities cannot be implemented alone as there are considerations for economic and social challenges. That is why the initiative supports the development of tailored integrated solid waste management at the local and national levels. The initiative stresses that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

How will the initiative achieve these reductions?

Stratus Consulting conducted a short study on mitigation options for short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) mitigation from the waste sector and identified that the greatest potential to reduce black carbon comes from the transportation of and open burning of waste. Open burning is a challenge in many developing cities due to lack of landfill space and lack of awareness. 

The Initiative’s work with cities will focus on moving up the waste hierarchy and developing integrated solid waste services, and one of the first steps is to gather data on open burning and identify options to mitigate this practice. Another important element in addressing black carbon is to challenge the transport system by optimizing collection routes and upgrading equipment. 

As a part of an integrated approach to waste management, once an assessment has been conducted (first stage of city support), the initiative will be able to report on how many cities will address open burning and transportation of waste as key sources of black carbon.

Get involved in this initiative

If you want to collaborate with us to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, we encourage you to explore engagement options on this website and to contact the Secretariat to discuss further.

CCAC Secretariat
ccac_secretariat [at] unep.org
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