The study Waste opportunities – past and future climate benefits from better municipal waste management in Europe states there is a huge opportunity to cut the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from waste management practices, but European countries are not doing enough to embrace this.

Waste volumes continue to rise across the EU and could reach 558 kg per person by 2020 unless effective policies are put in place to reduce waste generation, the report warns. It takes a life-cycle approach to calculating emissions from waste, considering all direct emissions from municipal solid waste during processing and transport.

It also accounts for emissions that are avoided in other parts of the economy – for example, accounting for the reduction of emissions when fossil fuels are displaced by energy recovered from waste.

The study presents different scenarios for 2020, which illustrate that the potential for greenhouse gas savings largely depends on how countries implement EU waste policies, in particular whether they meet the EU Landfill Directive targets.

In a business-as-usual scenario, net greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste management would be cut by 44 million tonnes until 2020, compared to 2008. The main factors responsible for this improvement are reduced methane emissions from landfill and increased avoided emissions through recycling.

If all countries fully meet the Landfill Directive’s waste diversion targets, potential life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste management in 2020 could be cut by 62 million tonnes.

A complete ban on landfilling could cut emissions even further, reducing potential net emissions from waste management in 2020 by 78 million tonnes compared to 2008.

Maxine Perella

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