A Key to Rapid Methane Reduction: Keeping Organic Waste from Landfills

Waste is the third largest source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent as CO2. Most waste sector methane emissions come from landfilling organic waste. This paper discusses how diverting organic waste from landfill is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to lower methane emissions.

To keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, methane emissions must be cut by 45% this decade. Read more about how emissions can be cut in the three top emitting sectors: energy, agriculture, and waste .

A new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) provides the clearest and most comprehensive evidence to date of how better waste management is critical to the climate fight, while building resilience, creating jobs, and promoting thriving local economies.

Fuelling Failure is the first report to highlight the dangers fossil fuels and plastic production pose to every single UN Sustainable Development Goal. The 17 SDGs, whose 169 targets aim to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by 2030,” touch on a diverse range of issues and challenges such as biodiversity, work, health, inequality and food. The goals apply to all countries, rich and poor, with the aim of ensuring that “no one will be left behind.” In contrast, plastic reduction and zero waste strategies would help us meet the world’s SDG’s, fast.

The paper was produced by researchers at the University of Sussex on behalf of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and key civil society partners with expertise across the SDGs: 350.org, ActionAid, REN21, Stand.earth, CAN South Asia, UNRISD, Food and Water, Rapid Transition Alliance, Leave It In the Ground Initiative, GAIA, CAN International, Center for Biological Diversity, Stamp Out Poverty, MOCICC, Power Shift Africa, WECAN and Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.

This report highlights the most actionable steps governments can take to reduce methane emissions. We found that by tackling the waste sector, governments will get fast results using some of the easiest and most affordable methane reduction strategies available.  Waste prevention, source-separation of organic discards, and other methods can reduce solid waste methane emissions by as much as 95% by 2030. 

This report uses independent empirical research to evidence that incinerator bottom ash is insidiously hazardous and under-regulated. Risk is heightened by the fact that testing methods for its use as a building material are outdated. A list of fifteen concerns for public health and safety is provided in relation to the use of waste incinerator bottom ash in cement-based products and as road/pathway aggregate. Calls for the support of its use within a circular economy are premature, and, as per the precautionary principle, all ongoing usage should cease. Examination of independently analysed bottom ash provides a diagnostic on the operational steady state of waste incinerators, incidentally raising concerns about operational compliance with emissions legislation and the capacity of incinerators to produce benign bottom ash when fed with municipal solid waste.

Los plásticos ocupan una creciente porción del presupuesto global de carbono. En 2015, la huella global de
carbono proveniente del plástico se estimó en 1,7 mil millones de C0equivalente (C02e), y si continúa la trayectoria de crecimiento de la producción, disposición e incineración del plástico, para el 2050 aumentaría a 6,5 mil millones de toneladas de C02e (que equivale a las emisiones anuales de casi 1.640 plantas térmicas de carbón). También significa que para el año 2050, las emisiones causadas por el plástico únicamente, ocuparán más de un tercio del presupuesto restante de carbono para lograr la meta de 1,5°C.

Plastic is a significant contributor to climate change throughout its lifecycle. By 2050, emissions from plastic alone will take up over a third of the remaining carbon budget for a 1.5 °C target. A plastics treaty must impose legally-binding plastic reduction targets.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to build a resilient economy is more pressing than ever. Today, waste management is a sector that typically uses up to 4-19% of municipal budgets. While zero waste systems are known for their wide-range of environmental benefits, they are also an affordable and practical strategy to waste management that is greatly economically advantageous.