Our Vision for Sustainable Waste Management
To continue to reduce the impacts of solid waste management, reduce GHG emissions and recover more materials for the circular economy
Waste always has an impact on people and the environment. However, how we manage waste can significantly reduce those impacts. At Covanta, we believe the materials discarded every day should be utilized to their fullest potential. Both Material Processing Facilities (MPFs) that enable reuse and recycling of materials and Waste-to-Energy (WTE) are important parts of an overall sustainable waste management infrastructure.
Reuse and recycling are identified in standard waste management hierarchies as key processes to reduce end of life emissions associated with materials. Returning these materials into the economy not only mitigates the impacts of landfilling; it also helps avoid the emissions associated with sourcing and refining virgin materials.
WTE is recognized in the U.S. EPA and European Union waste management hierarchies as preferable to landfilling for the materials remaining after waste reduction, reuse and recycling efforts are exhausted. By recovering both energy and metals from this stream, WTE facilities reduce the need for fossil-based energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to landfilling. According to the U.S. EPA life-cycle emission analysis, WTE facilities reduce the amount of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) in the atmosphere by approximately one ton for every ton of municipal solid waste (MSW) combusted.
As experts in materials management, we know we can do more. Our materials management goals are centered around recovering more value from waste resources, reducing GHG emissions and recovering more materials to put back into the economy by:
- Recovering more energy at existing WTE facilities;
- Building new best-in-class WTE capacity with low emission profiles;
- Investing in existing WTE facilities to improve their operational efficiency in the long run;
- Continuing to expand recycling services to our commercial or industrial clients; and
- Continuing to mine ash for valuable resources, such as metals and aggregates.
To set a science-based target and implementation plan by 2022 to help prevent the most significant impacts of global climate change
As part of our vision for protecting tomorrow, we are developing a science-based target in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C compared to preindustrial temperatures.
Minimizing the most severe impacts of climate change will require transformative change across all sectors of the economy, including waste and materials management. Fully implementing the waste management hierarchy globally will be a major step forward. Achieving the same recycling and energy recovery rates in the United States as that of leaders in Europe will reduce GHG emissions by one billion metric tons of carbon equivalents per year by 2050.
One key component will be drastically reducing, if not eliminating, landfilling of biodegradable wastes. Landfilling is the third-largest source of anthropogenic methane globally, a potent GHG more than 80 times as strong as CO2 over 20 years, a period increasingly seen as relevant to mitigating global climate change. Furthermore, new measurement data show landfills to be a greater emitter than previously thought. While waste reduction, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) will all play vital roles, we must realistically plan for the wastes remaining. This is where novel materials management technologies augmented with WTE will continue to play a key role.
It is critically important we do not remain complacent with present-day WTE technology. Just as landfilling, recycling, AD and composting will need to account for more accurate GHG measurements and improve environmental impact performance, WTE will need to continue to improve and adapt to reduce its own GHG intensity and enable the recovery of more materials. Furthermore, as we reduce those emissions associated with climate change, we must also work to reduce other community impacts, particularly in those communities that have historically borne disproportionate environmental burdens associated with all forms of industrial activity and waste management.
Our work today already puts us in a leadership position in many of these areas. We know, however, that there are challenges requiring even greater innovation. That’s why we continue to evaluate evolving technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration, that may help further reduce the carbon footprint of energy recovery while minimizing other environmental impacts.