1. Undermining sustainable development

Climate policy attempts to reduce methane emissions from waste have mainly focused on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established not only to reduce emissions as cost-effectively as possible, but also to promote sustainable development and technology transfer to developing countries. Unfortunately, in the case of the waste sector, considerable evidence indicates that the projects approved by the CDM are not achieving either goal; indeed, in many cases they are directly undermining both.

2. Preventing recycling and composting programs

Landfill gas to energy (LFGTE) installations and incinerators are promoted within CDM’s pipeline on the grounds that they are reducing methane emissions from waste while producing clean and renewable energy that replaces conventional energy in the grid. These are false assumptions that are displacing climate change mitigation strategies such as recycling and composting while being a source of spurious CERs.

3. Displacing wastepickers’ livelihoods

CDM’s support to the expansion of waste incinerators (including gasification, pyrolysis and RDF[1]) and landfill gas facilities represent a huge threat to wastepickers and it becomes a perverse incentive to burn or bury recyclable materials. These technologies actively compete with the valuable contribution of wastepickers to climate change mitigation and general recycling programs, which offer much greater total greenhouse gas reductions, especially when combined with biological treatment methods. [2],[3]

4. Increasing greeenhouse gas emissions

In LFGTE, methane emissions are not being reduced as much as projects developers claim, but the opposite, their low efficiency rate involve a considerable amount of fugitive methane emissions. As evidence shows that LFGTE operators’ manipulate landfills to increase methane emissions and make them more profitable, these projects ultimately result in an increase of methane fugitive emissions to the atmosphere.

In incinerators, energy produced through biomass combustion involves a much higher rate of CO2 emissionsthan other conventional means of energy generation such as coal-fired power plants.[4] The use of added fossil fuel to burn organic waste does not comply with the definition of ‘renewable’ energy as described in European legislation and the lack of monitoring of it has serious implications to CDM’s environmental integrity.

5. Increasing global rates of pollution

The CDM does not require any monitoring or compliance of pollution controls in incinerators so they represent a major source of global pollution. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are regulated by the Stockholm Convention on POPs, which names waste incineration as a primary source of dioxins and furans. Current incinerator-building trends threaten to more than double the global quantity of dioxin emissions,[5] in violation of countries’ commitment under Stockholm to minimize dioxin releases.

Graph1. Host countries of CDM municipal solid waste projects[6]

Graph 2. Type of technologies supported by CDM [7]

[1] Refuse Derived Fuel is a technology in which waste is dried and compressed into bricks or pellets, then burned for fuel, often in cement kilns.

[2] Ananda Tan, “Clean Development Mechanism Funding for Waste Incineration: Financing the Demise of Waste Worker Livelihood, Community Health, and Climate,” Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 2009.

[3] “Zero Waste for Zero Warming: GAIA’s Statement of Concern on Waste and Climate Change,” Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, December 2008.

[4] Source: U.S. EPA, 2007, epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/airemissions.html

[5] World Bank, Waste Management in China: Issues and Recommendations, May 2005.

[6] Source: GAIA elaboration based on Risoe Database. Accessed February 2011.

[7] Source: GAIA elaboration based on Risoe Database. Accessed February 2011.