Waste sector solutions

Actions for climate, public health and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,

Waste management is a hugely neglected aspect of our current model of production and consumption, and it is the environment and human health which pay the price. Not only does poor waste management pollute the air and warm the climate, it also introduces toxins into the soil, water, and food chain. 

Municipal solid waste and wastewater is the third-largest source (nearly 20%) of human-caused methane emissions globally. This is due to the breakdown of organic waste in landfills and informal dumps. In developing countries, over 50% of municipal solid waste is organic waste that could be diverted from the landfill for other uses. About one-third (over 1 billion tonnes) of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

Globally, an estimated 40% of waste is openly burned, releasing harmful dioxins, furans, and black carbon into the atmosphere and ecosystems. Open burning of waste also comprises around 5% of black carbon emissions.

This model is unsustainable and presents a major threat to the planetary support systems we rely on. Not only does it damage human and environmental health, including critical agricultural outputs, it wastes potentially valuable resources that can be used to the opposite effect, such as creating fertilisers and opportunities for low-skilled jobs.

Population growth and increasing per-capita consumption reinforce the urgency to transform the waste sector towards a circular economy model in all cities around the globe. Sustainable waste management benefits health, the environment, and the economy, and improves the quality of life of local communities, especially in urban areas.

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Main emissions Sources

Emissions from waste derive from three main sources - landfills, organic waste, and open burning. Landfills and organic waste generate methane as food and other organic materials rot, while open burning generates black carbon and other toxic compounds which damage human health.

Waste methane, black carbon, ccac

Globally, waste (including wastewater) is the third largest anthropogenic source of methane, accounting for nearly 20% of estimated global methane emissions. Methane emissions associated with both solid waste and wastewater are projected to grow by between 6%-18% from 2020 levels by 2030.

Organic Waste

Approximately one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. In cities, food often makes up the majority of waste that ends up in landfills, where it gradually decomposes and releases methane. 


Open Burning
waste burning sclps ccac black carbon

Open burning of waste together comprises around 5% of black carbon emissions. Waste can be deliberately burned to reduce landfill space, and to facilitate scavenging of non-combustible materials (such as metals) for profit, or for use as a heat source. Waste can also spontaneously combust as the result of a combination of factors, including the emission of methane gas from biodegrading waste.



Waste is the third-largest source of methane emissions after fossil fuels and agriculture. Reducing methane from waste is critical to achieve the target of limiting warming to 1.5°C this century.

Because of the widely varying contexts of global waste management – such as waste composition, climate, economic and social consequences, there is no standardised approach to easily calculate the magnitude of SLCP reduction possible via comprehensive improved waste management efforts. The CCAC is currently supporting the construction of a calculator to be able to quantify baseline emissions and projected emissions reductions with standardised methodology.

Methane emissions from organic waste such as food and plant waste, are largely preventable and need to be reduced by at least 30-35% to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Waste collection and sorting can be improved using simple technology to reduce the total amount of waste that is burned or landfilled. This provides opportunities to use the resources derived from waste towards other means such as producing fertiliser and biogas. Capturing methane from landfills can recover up to 90% of gas and produce biogas that would otherwise be wasted. This can reduce waste methane emissions by around 60%

Under-utilised methods with high potential to mitigate organic waste methane include diverting organic waste to Black Soldier Fly facilities – which reduce methane emissions by more than 50% of traditional composting techniques – and installing biocovers on open landfills. 

Black carbon emissions from waste are also almost entirely preventable, but require significant investment into integrated waste management models based on sustainable circular economic principles. 

However, the growth of waste volumes means that fully addressing waste’s environmental and health impacts requires changing the current linear consumption models radically and switching to products which can be reused.

What Can Be Done

Around 2.5 billion people currently lack access to adequate waste management services, largely due to financial barriers faced by municipal governments. While in the long-term better waste management promises financial savings, improved waste management solutions require upfront financial investment to implement.

While some measures such as banning open burning of waste can be implemented immediately, waste management is connected to complex systems of resource flows and transport logistics. This requires integrated planning at all local and national levels to implement locally tailored solutions. 

Existing measures to radically reduce SLCP emissions from waste include:

  • Separating and treating biodegradable municipal waste, and turn it into compost or bio-energy
  • Upgrading wastewater treatment with gas recovery and overflow control
  • Improving anaerobic digestion of solid and liquid waste by food industry
  • Upgrading primary waste water treatment
  • Diverting organic waste
  • Collecting capture and use landfill gas
  • Banning open burning of municipal waste


Implementing comprehensive measures to address methane and black carbon emissions from open burning of waste promises benefits for the environment, economy, human health, and agricultural production. 

Human health will benefit from reduced methane due to methane’s role in the formation of tropospheric ozone, which causes thousands of premature deaths and millions of chronic diseases every year and damages plant productivity. Reducing black carbon emissions from the open burning of waste also drastically improve health outcomes. Black carbon is a highly potent transporter of toxins into the human body which influences 7 million pollution related premature deaths per year. Further, controlled liquid run-off from dumps helps avoid groundwater contamination and reduces vector-borne diseases.

Waste is also a potential resource. It can be used to produce energy through capturing methane emissions as a replacement for more polluting fuels. Additionally, compost produced from organic waste can be used as a soil amendment displacing synthetic fertilisers composed of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Regional agriculture can also benefit from less air, soil, and water pollution, as black carbon, tropospheric ozone, and the other toxins resulting from poor waste management poison plants. 

As a precondition for recycling, improved waste management is an industry which has the potential to employ both technical and unskilled jobs. Many informal workers already use waste collection as a source of income, however in dangerous and inefficient conditions.

Economies can benefit from formalising and upscaling these processes in integrated systems. Improvement of waste management systems is one of the best ways for cities to enhance local economies, real estate values, and quality of life. Cleaner air and streets improves local property values, as well as the indirect costs of environmental damage caused by waste, and the health care costs borne by citizens breathing polluted air. 

What we do

Given the financial barriers faced by local governments in improving waste management, and the need for locally tailored solutions, the CCAC focuses its support toward cities and countries in the areas of planning and solutions mapping. These activities take place through six workstreams:

  •  Scaling waste action
  •  National waste action programme
  •  City waste action programme
  •  Open waste burning prevention
  •  Landfill gas capture and use
  •  Organic waste diversion

Our goal is that by 2030, all CCAC will have reduced methane from the waste sector to a level consistent with a 1.5°C pathway and have reflected this goal in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and other planning and strategy documents, and all CCAC countries aim to prevent and eliminate the open burning of waste, at all scales – households to city-wide.

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