Why Address GHG Emissions from Waste?
As supported by overwhelming scientific consensus, climate change is real and largely driven by human activity. The path forward for responding to climate change is far less certain. However, in the face of the tremendous risks presented by climate change to our future, we believe it prudent to reduce GHG emissions today, especially when other benefits can be realized.
A focus on more sustainable waste management can save natural resources, lower non-GHG emissions, provide high-wage jobs for local economies and diversify our electrical grid all while addressing risks of climate change by reducing life cycle GHG emissions.
We can all have a big impact on reducing GHG emissions by following the waste management hierarchy developed by the U.S. EPA and pursuing a more circular economy.
We have lots of room to grow. According to research by Columbia University, roughly two-thirds of what Americans discard ends up in landfills. In contrast, Germany has eliminated the direct landfilling of waste, with over two-thirds of their trash being recycled or composted. Energy recovery is used for the remainder.
EfW Around the World
In fact, if the United States managed its wastes as sustainably as Germany, it could:
- reduce GHG emissions equivalent to shutting down over 60 coal-fired power plants, and
- save over two quadrillion BTU of primary energy, equal to all the electricity generated by wind and solar combined.
Globally, the GHG savings could equal 1 gigaton of carbon equivalents by mid-century, equivalent to building 2 million 1 MW wind turbines.
“EfW and recycling and composting efforts are a win-win-win for the United States. EfW generates clean electricity, decreases GHGs that would have been emitted from landfills and fossil-fuel power plants, and pairs well with increased recycling rates in states.”
For more information, please see Covanta’s white paper: “Waste and Climate: Reducing Your Footprint”