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You are here: Home / News / Improved waste management delivering climate benefits

Improved waste management delivering climate benefits

Improved waste management is already contributing to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new EEA study launched today at the international conference on waste and climate change in London.

The EEA briefing, available in 26 languages, explains how better processing of municipal waste will continue to reduce emissions from this sector, while calling for greater attention to increasing volumes across Europe. The study projects a significant decrease by 2020 in net greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste, with a reduction of more than 80 % (down to 10 million tones) compared to the late 1980s. The reduction will be driven by greater recycling volumes, increased amounts of waste recovery and incineration combined with energy production. Europe’s success in diverting waste away from landfill is also considered a key factor bringing down emissions.

Municipal waste, however, is set to grow by 25 % from 2005 to 2020. The EEA warns that increasing waste amounts could lead to saturation and increase GHG emissions due to inefficient management.

Keeping municipal waste to the minimum remains the preferred action for reinforcing past and future improvements in waste treatment. Decreasing current amounts could turn this sector into a sink, reducing total net GHG emissions. Restricting waste volumes delivers both immediate and long-term benefits to citizens, including reduced air pollution (with particles and nitrogen oxides) and less noise from collection and transport.

In 2005 emissions from waste management represented 2 % of EU's total GHG output. Methane, one of the six greenhouse gases controlled by the Kyoto protocol, is mostly generated by landfill operations in the waste sector. Landfill is considered the worst option for disposal, with harmful effects on the environment and health. Incineration, on the other hand, could contribute positively if combined with high rates of energy recovery and strict emission controls, while recycling remains one of the priorities for waste management.

These conclusions are the result of an integrated analysis addressing, for the first time, the effects of municipal waste management on the net emissions of GHGs across Europe. The EEA and the European Topic Centre for Resource and Waste Management have used an EU-wide economic model for projecting waste volumes to 2020, combining analysis of recycling, incineration and landfill management with relevant legislation and life-cycle information for calculating GHG emissions. The EEA analysis aims to provide useful information in view of the current revision of the EU Waste Framework Directive.

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