Ten Years of Working to Reduce the Climate and Clean Air Impacts of the Waste Sector

by CCAC secretariat - 27 May, 2022
The CCAC’s targeted work in the waste sector has led to policies, strategies, and projects that are helping countries reduce their short-lived climate pollutants to create a healthier, more productive world

In 2016, humans produced just over 2 billion tonnes of waste — a number the World Bank estimates will shoot up to 3.4 billion by 2050. 

About a third of that waste is either deposited into unsanitary landfills or open dumps, or it is burned. In low-income countries, burning accounts for 90 percent of waste disposal. These practices are creating a public health emergency as toxins leak into waterways and waste pickers are exposed to unsanitary working conditions. It’s also fueling the global climate and air pollution crisis, with burning trash spewing black carbon into the air, contributing to 12 percent of the world's methane emissions.

According to the International Solid Waste Association, dumpsites receive 40 percent of the world’s waste, with the globe’s 50 biggest dumpsites affecting the daily lives of 64 million people. In low-income countries, just 36 percent of the population has a trash collection service.

According to the CCAC’s Global Methane Assessment, more than half of methane emissions stem from human activities in three sectors: fossil fuels, agriculture, and waste. Waste accounts for 20 per cent of those emissions, mainly from landfills and wastewater. 

“Waste isn’t just important for the climate but also for public health and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr. Premakumara Jagath Dickella Gamaralalage, the Director of the IGES Centre Collaborating with UNEP on Environmental Technologies (CCET). “Waste management is an important public service because it is a public health issue, it’s an economic issue, and it’s a social issue because women and children work unsafe jobs in the waste sector. Creating sustainable cities starts with waste management.”

"Creating sustainable cities starts with waste management."
Dr. Premakumara Jagath Dickella Gamaralalage

There are targeted, accessible solutions to mitigating methane emissions in the waste sector that will help combat the climate crisis while also saving lives from air pollution. The greatest potential is in solid waste management, including separation at source, keeping organic waste out of landfills, and recycling or treatment with energy recovery. Wastewater treatment is another intervention, which can include things like installing wastewater treatment plants and the anaerobic treatment of wastewater with biogas recovery and utilisation.

Many of these actions are even cost-effective, with as much as 60 percent of the targeted measures in the waste sector having either a negative cost or a low cost, according to the Global Methane Assessment.

“Waste impacts everyone, and it is the responsibility of everyone to work on addressing the problem of waste,” said Sandra Mazo Nix, the CCAC’s Municipal Solid Waste Hub Coordinator. “The CCAC has played an integral role in helping countries realise that reducing the sector’s impact on climate change has a host of other benefits, such as lives saved from air pollution, a reduced public health burden, increased economic productivity, and even job creation. The CCAC is working with countries to help them identify the best solutions for their unique circumstances and helping them build the tools they need to implement those solutions.”

“The CCAC has been instrumental in raising awareness about the importance of improving waste management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from short-lived climate pollutants."
Carlos RV Silva Filho

The CCAC has been doing this work by training city officials, providing expertise through waste management assessments and feasibility studies, and assisting cities with finding financing for waste programmes.

“The CCAC has been instrumental in raising awareness about the importance of improving waste management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from short-lived climate pollutants,” said Carlos RV Silva Filho, the President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), who added that CCAC’s leadership has been key to transforming waste in several Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Sao Paulo. “Cooperation and knowledge transference is key to supporting a consistent transition towards better practices. Starting with basic steps such as city assessments and focused technical research to produce deliverables tailor-made for the specific characteristics of each municipality has brought city officials confidence to engage and implement practical actions.” 

The CCAC is helping drive national waste management policies that are vertically aligned with municipalities

Kenya is home to one of the world’s largest open dumpsites, the Dandora dumpsite, which pollutes Nairobi waterways and air and creates dangerous working conditions for the thousands of waste pickers tasked with informally managing the site. It’s estimated that just 10 percent of waste in Kenya is recycled or composted, with the rest landing in dumpsites or collecting on roadsides. 

“There are huge, horrific public health issues around these big, open, uncontrolled dumps in all of the big megacities in Africa and so many places around the world— they create tremendous air quality problems and water contamination problems, along with releasing methane and black carbon into the atmosphere,” said Erika Rosenthal, an environmental lawyer who was part of a team hired by the CCAC to work with Kenya to reduce SLCPs in the waste sector.

Kenya adopted a National Solid Waste Management Strategy in 2015, which had the potential to achieve significant climate and development benefits, but the law can’t reach its potential without an implementation plan or a law to help enforce it.

To bridge this gap, the CCAC funded a team to help draft a national waste management bill to reduce SLCPs from the waste sector. As part of this work, they brought an expert from South Africa to share expertise on the country’s passage of a waste management law.

They also consulted with civil society groups, independent recyclers, and waste picker associations. The draft Waste Management Bill was completed in 2017 and went through an extensive consultation process to get community and civil society inputs. The bill has now passed in the lower house, the assembly, and is awaiting the Senate.

This bill includes tax reform to incentivize private investment in recycling and treatment facilities, has a plan for waste separation, mandates that counties make dedicated space for waste management facilities, and creates standards for organic compost. 

“The CCAC coming in and being able to marshall the connections of their network so that we were easily able to bring people from South Africa — that was really important. The peer to peer exchange from within the continent, the policy support at the CCAC annual meetings, all of this meant that the CCAC played a critical role in enabling this bill to move forward,” said Rosenthal. “The CCAC was the spark that got it all going.”

In the Philippines, the CCAC also helped catalyse a national waste law. With the assistance of IGES, the CCAC supported the passage of The National Strategy to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants from the Municipal Solid Waste Sector in the Philippines. As part of that assistance, the CCAC helped support a national awareness workshop in 2017 in Quezon City where participants drew connections between climate change and the waste sector while exploring mitigation options. A workshop in 2018 trained nine cities and one province to better calculate and mitigate waste emissions. Later that year, the National Solid Waste Management Commission created a committee to draft a national strategy for mitigating SLCPs in the waste sector. The commission, along with other groups, organised several national forums to get feedback on the strategy document before finalizing it. In 2019, it was adopted as a national guideline.

“I think that the biggest achievements of the CCAC’s Waste Initiative are mobilising high-level political commitments and support to address SLCPs from the waste sector and encouraging actions by national, state, and local governments to avoid and reduce both methane and black carbon emissions from the waste sector,” said Gamaralalage. “The initiative provides technical assistance for developing waste management plans and feasibility studies, and for identifying and promoting appropriate financing for waste projects. It also helps create tools and resources that help cities and national governments track their emissions reductions, determine appropriate waste management solutions, identify best practices, and brings cities together to share best practices and encourage peer-to-peer learning.”

Capacity support to local governments

Much of the waste sector is poorly measured, given that it is poorly regulated and informal in many cities around the world. To bridge this gap, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in support of the CCAC's Municipal Solid Waste Initiative, developed a tool in 2017 called the Solid Waste Emissions Estimation Tool, or SWEET. It’s Excel-based and municipalities can download it from the CCAC Waste Initiative’s Knowledge Platform. Cities can use SWEET to get a baseline measurement of their waste emissions and then monitor them over time. They can also measure the ways that different interventions would impact emissions levels over time.

A major objective of the tool was to help cities connect the dots between the waste sector, climate, clean air, and other development indicators. Waste can seem like an intractable problem and SWEET can help cities recognize that intervening in the waste sector is a lot easier than it seems— and that the multiple benefits can be big.

“Once we help them connect the dots between food security, logistics, transport, job generation, and environmental impact, they realise that with relatively simple actions and decisions they can mitigate emissions,” said Gabriela Otero, a technical coordinator who helped multiple cities in Brazil start using SWEET.

Ms. Otero and her team started running SWEET in 2017 in the southern city of Curitiba and then soon after in Sao Paulo and more recently in Rio de Janeiro.

“When you see how big the numbers are for potential emissions avoided if they make the right decisions it is really attractive,” said Otero. “SWEET is a very good technical and political commitment tool.”

The mayor of Sao Paulo has incorporated these calculations into the city’s strategic goals. SWEET’s measurements are already helping cities access climate finance, equipping them with solid data that offers proof of what they can achieve with funding.

“The project we developed under the CCAC Waste Initiative is being presented to international development banks because the potential for mitigation is really, really substantial,” said Otero.  “This is part of why municipalities are excited about SWEET and also about joining the CCAC, they want to transition to an environmentally friendly waste management system and also it can help them access climate funds and environmental funds.”

The tool has also been deployed in India, Ghana, Madagascar, Nepal, Ecuador, Mongolia, and many other countries. 

Support to cities like Sao Paulo go beyond SWEET, however, with the CCAC providing tailored, integrated support to help cities transform their waste sector. 

“In São Paulo, the comprehensive partnership developed with the city was able to change the landscape of the city’s waste management system, where improved communication skills helped to expand separate waste collection system and the series of organic waste treatment reports allowed the implementation of 10 small scale decentralised composting plants,” said Carlos RV Silva Filho.

The CCAC also supported a feasibility study on developing an Ecopark for the city, which Filho said is an ongoing project that the mayor’s cabinet is committed to making happen.

“Without the dedication and full support from CCAC’s Waste Initiative, none of this would have been achieved,” he added.

The CCAC also organised a series of events in cities around the world — from Sao Paulo, to Washington, D.C, to Ho Chi Minh — for representatives from the waste sector to convene and share ideas and strategies about waste management, while building connections across the sector. 

In Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in 2019, decision-makers from 13 different countries attended the CCAC-C40 Waste Finance Academy Follow Up Event and the 2019 C40-CCAC Sustainable Waste Systems Workshop. Seven of the representatives attended a previous CCAC-supported event, the Waste Finance Academy in Accra, Ghana held the same year.

At the event, cities forged connections and shared strategies for improving waste management, including financing strategies, successful implementation plans, waste separation systems, and improved disposal site management. Today, workshop attendees remain in touch via an active Whatsapp group that allows them to exchange best practices and keep each other up to date on waste-related developments.

Countries Support Each Other Through Peer to Peer Exchanges

The CCAC developed the City Waste Exchange Programme so that cities could exchange lessons with peer cities on strategies like diverting organic waste to reduce landfills, capturing and burning landfill gas to prevent the release of methane, and banning the open burning of waste to prevent black carbon emissions. Cities are an important target, considering that urban population around the world has increased almost six-fold since 1950.

The programme paired cities like Viña del Mar, Chile and Stockholm, Sweden; Nairobi, Kenya and Durban, South Africa; and New Delhi, India and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with representatives from each city visiting the partner city to learn about how to improve waste management, always with the angle of mitigating SLCPs from the sector.

The country to country partnership the CCAC facilitated between Chile and Peru is a great example of the achievements that can come out of this kind of mentorship.

The project “Enhancing NDC ambition and scaling up implementation in Peru’s Municipal Solid Waste sector,” was carried out from 2020 to 2021 and helped Peru review their policy framework for organic waste management based on advice from Chile’s successful approval of a National Organic Waste Strategy.

Chile successfully approved a National Organic Waste Strategy in February of 2021 as part of their latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The strategy aims to dramatically increase municipal organic waste recovery, from the current 1 per cent to 66 per cent by 2040, with an intermediate goal of recovering 30 per cent by 2030.

The project involved a peer exchange between the two countries, including five high-level policy meetings between the two governments to share knowledge and strategy for waste management.

"Sharing the experiences and visions around our recently published National Organic Waste Strategy, through virtual dialogues with our counterparts in Peru, helped us exchange ideas and learn about how our neighbours have moved forward and are facing these issues,” said Pablo Fernandois, Coordinator of the Circular Community Without Garbage Program, Office of Circular Economy, Ministry of the Environment of Chile. “The challenges of organic waste management and its impact on climate change are very similar for both countries.” 

The project also included feasibility studies of improving organic waste management in four Peruvian cities, and economic evaluations and capacity-building workshops. The cities used the Solid Waste Emissions Estimate Tool (SWEET) to analyse potential emissions reductions. This helped each city set a 30 per cent target for organic waste recycling through composting and fertiliser production.

“The CCAC’s technical assistance to local governments on technologies for recovering organic solid waste, and training on better ways to measure current emissions and reductions scenarios has generated significant interest from municipal officials about the positive impacts of these actions in the fight against climate change,” said William Agustín Chata Yauri, General Directorate of Solid Waste Management at Peru’s Ministry of Environment.

"The CCAC’s technical assistance to local governments on technologies for recovering organic solid waste, and training on better ways to measure current emissions and reductions scenarios has generated significant interest from municipal officials about the positive impacts of these actions in the fight against climate change."
William Agustín Chata Yauri

Another exchange occurred between Cebu in the Philippines and Kitakyushu in Japan, with officials travelling to each other’s cities several times. During the visits, Kitakyushu emphasised the linkages between environmental conservation, waste management, and sustainable development. It also assisted Cebu with developing legal systems for electric and electronic waste management. As a result, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has improved waste management, including by installing collection boxes for electric and electronic waste and by implementing city-wide collection campaigns. Cebu is now enforcing penalties for not segregating waste and has neighbourhood-level composting projects.

Kitakyushu is also helping Medan in Indonesia, including assisting with developing a work plan in 2017 for reducing short-lived climate pollutants from the waste sector, which has now been codified into a Mayoral Act called Local Government Strategy on Waste Management. The work plan was developed with the financial support of the Coalition’s Waste Initiative.

“Medan has seen how Kitakyushu manages their waste. Impactful action should be started at the community level,” said Willy Irawan, the Head of Division for Planning and Environment of Medan Municipality. “Citizen participation is required. We know that Kitakyushu is utilising hi-technology on waste management, but first things first, the behaviour change is the most important.”

The Decade Ahead

By 2030, all CCAC partner countries will have taken action in the waste sector to reduce methane to a level consistent with a 1.5°C pathway and have this goal reflected in their NDCs and other planning documents. 

“The CCAC has big plans to support countries over the next decade in bridging the gap between national ambitions when it comes to waste — including those related to climate change and air pollution — and actual implementation of waste projects,” said Mazo-Nix. “Methane mitigation is a big opportunity for countries and the waste sector is an important place to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Among the ways the CCAC will do this is to focus more on countries, instead of sub-national governments, as well as focus on vertical integration between national and sub-national governments to maximise impact and efficiency. The CCAC also plans to do more matchmaking between CCAC country partners so that they can learn from each other’s expertise and share resources.

“We must divert waste from landfills, build integrated treatment systems, and support prevention and reuse, thereby targeting climate mitigation, resource efficiency, and sustainable green development with the generation of jobs and opportunities likewise,” said Anja Schwetje of the German Environment Agency. “The Global Methane Pledge (GMP) comes at the right time. Action in the waste sector is necessary and goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals and other co-benefits.”

Schwetje said that it will be important to continue drastically cutting food loss and waste, and to compost inevitable food waste. It will also be important to improve the separation, recycling, and recovery of dry wastes like paper, glass, or plastics.

“CCAC plays a vital role in the international community, with national leadership and decision-makers and amongst all stakeholders in promoting the importance of the waste sector for methane mitigation, for NDC development and achievements and to implement the GMP and other global goals,” said Schwetje.

"CCAC plays a vital role in the international community, with national leadership and decision-makers and amongst all stakeholders in promoting the importance of the waste sector for methane mitigation."
Anja Schwetje

Carlos RV Silva Filho added that future trends in the waste sector, in Brazil and around the world, show that there’s growing interest in waste diversion solutions, including building eco parks where waste can be turned into a resource. 

This work will require consistent waste fee systems to support waste management solutions and governance systems that make it feasible for waste stakeholders to collaborate and streamline their efforts.

“Another topic of growing interest is achieving the goal set by the Methane Pledge, which was endorsed by Brazil and several other countries during COP26. There is a growing confidence that the waste sector can play a relevant role in mitigating emissions,” said Filho.