Municipalities, Markets and Reducing Waste Methane in Argentina

by CCAC Secretariat - 8 August, 2023
Pilot projects in key organic waste producing sectors are highlighting the potential for upscaling waste methane mitigation across the country.

In recent years, improved technology for monitoring methane emissions has highlighted the scale of the challenge in the waste sector. In some major cities such as Buenos Aires, Argentina it is estimated that up to 50% of methane emissions derive from organic waste decomposing in landfill. Globally organic waste comprises nearly 20% of human-derived methane emissions.

Efforts to curb methane emissions from organic waste are one of Argentina’s short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) priorities, and Argentina has undertaken a number of methane reduction initiatives as a part of its actions under the Global Methane Pledge.

The CCAC has been supporting the government of Argentina to find solutions to the challenges of organic waste since 2021. Two projects were launched to enhance the capacity of local authorities, farmers, and markets to establish sustainable organic waste diversion and processing systems. Now reaching the feasibility and scalability testing stage, the latest project -Supporting Argentina from NDC to Action - Methane Reductions through Organic Waste Diversion & Use – is revealing both successes and challenges informing efforts to significantly reduce methane emissions from organic waste.

Implemented by Argentina’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the project includes organic waste diversion and processing work in three pilot sites, as well as capacity building and training work across 41 municipalities nationally to date, with more municipalities expected to participate as the project continues.

The pilot sites include two wholesale fruit and vegetable produce markets – the Buenos Aires and Escobar markets which operate a composting facility and an anaerobic waste digester, respectively – as well as the Luján wastewater treatment plant which receives wastewater from tanker trucks.

The Buenos Aires market is the largest in the country and has been the most successful in managing its organic waste diversion and processing system. By offering discounted fees to stallholders, the market diverts organic waste into two streams – one for food that can be used by charity organisations to feed the city’s most vulnerable, and another for diverting unsalvageable food to a composting facility. Since 2020, the market has managed to divert 4,230 tons of organic waste to final disposal at the landfill and produce 3,000 tons of compost – which otherwise would have rotted and produced methane gas. This compost is donated back to farmers in areas supplying the market and to municipalities which contribute agricultural green waste to the composting facility to supply an efficient balance of carbon and nitrogen in the digester. 

Organic waste sorting at the Buenos Aires Market

At the Escobar Market, 230 tons of organic waste have been diverted from final disposal since 2021, and in the smaller-scale Luján wastewater treatment plant, 36 tons of sewage sludge have been diverted so far in 2023. The biodigester located in the Escobar Market is classified as a medium volume biodigester, with a maximum treatment capacity of four tons per day. The waste from the Escobar market – which is not yet running at full capacity – is already sufficient to provide electricity to the market for eight to 12 hours per day.

Technical support to municipalities has so far included three main components. The first of these is to raise awareness of the National Program for the Valorisation of Organics (PROVO) which was passed in January 2023 and established pathways for the valorisation of organic waste.

The second aspect of the project's goals in the municipalities is to strengthen knowledge sharing between different actors in each area, including industries, landfills, markets, universities, and research institutes. The third is to help assess and develop municipality plans for the funding, infrastructure and training necessary to establish effective waste separation and processing. Of the 41 municipalities visited so far, only eight have composting plants.

Financing is the primary barrier for enhanced municipal waste systems, both in the initial investment and in sustaining plant operations through the sale of compost, biogas and liquid products. To respond to this, a key aim of the project has been to establish the financial sustainability and valorisation of organic waste diversion for all stakeholders involved. So far, the incentive model used at the Buenos Aires market has been the most sustainable financing mechanism and is supported by fees paid by stallholders, as well as other income collected by the market.


The biodigester at the Escobar Market

According to Patricia Fernández Cañas, and Walter Ordinas, advisors providing technical support to the project, linking development bank finance to municipalities, rather than only national government would be a major step in overcoming the initial investment requirements. Similarly, reforming standards for registering the sale of compost products from organic waste – to make the market more accessible to local suppliers – would also help properly support competitive domestic compost markets. At present, challenges in registering compost for quality and safety have contributed to hindering the financial sustainability of organic waste treatment.

“By treating 50% of the waste generated – the estimated amount of valorisable municipal organic waste in Argentina – the most complex and valuable proportion of municipal waste can generate a profit, as well as social and environmental benefits,” said Fernández Cañas and Ordinas. Including private facilities, it is estimated more than one million tons of organic waste is currently being composted in Argentina each year.

“The support received from the CCAC has been important, since it promoted the creation of the National Program for the Valuation of Organics with objectives at the federal level. It also allowed promoting the adherence to the institutional Composting Plan of those public and private organisations that are developing composting practices at their headquarters,” said Project Coordinator at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Mariana Tognetti.

The next phase of the project will seek to establish data on the methane reductions being avoided as a part of this activity. The potential reductions estimated in project planning stand at 1.7 million tons of methane avoided within the three-year implementation period.

Pollutants (SLCPs)