Changing waste management practices across the EU – particularly through boosting aluminium and textile recycling – could play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new Europe-wide study carried out by consultancy Eunomia.
Published yesterday (October 27), the report – ‘The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy’ – was commissioned by NGO Zero Waste Europe in partnership with Zero Waste France and ACR+ (the Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and sustainable Resource management).
It states that the role of waste prevention and improved waste management in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and the development of a low carbon economy has previously been “significantly understated”.
In 2012, according to the European Environment Agency, the waste sector was the sixth largest contributor to carbon emissions in the EU, contributing to 3% of total GHG emissions – ahead of the likes of petroleum refining and agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
However, the report argues, the waste sector’s potential contribution to reducing GHG emissions could be far greater than it’s reported 3% impact on carbon emissions suggests, if more emphasis is placed on driving waste up the hierarchy and away from incineration and landfill.
Actions at the top of the waste hierarchy, therefore – such as waste prevention initiatives, reuse and recycling – can have “considerable scope to reduce climate change emissions”.
Particularly, it emphasises aluminium and textiles as two materials which if recycled or reused more widely and effectively could bring considerable carbon reduction benefits.
And, in regards to climate change, the report suggests that there is little difference in impact between managing residual waste through landfill or doing so through incineration.
11 key recommendations are set out in the report, including greater policy focus on shifting waste management activities up the hierarchy and on shifting emphasis from ‘how much waste is landfilled?’ to ‘how much waste is generated?’
It also warns against blanket landfill bans on materials – which it argues due to the make-up of mixed residual waste are often not enforceable – while calling for GCG emissions reduction targets “with appropriate ambition for the waste sector”.
Member States which have implemented landfill bans have ended up with excess incineration capacity, and have as a result sought to import waste from other countries, it argues.
In addition, EU Member States should “reconsider” their support – such as subsidies and tax exemptions – for renewable energy and “immediately discontinue support for all forms of energy from residual waste”, as such practices are counterproductive in tackling climate change.
Furthermore, the report argues that it “would make sense” to withdraw support from the direct use of virgin harvester biomass for renewable energy, due to the need for to better use land for growing food or manufacturing.
Other recommendations include greater integration of ‘waste’ within the framework of European policies to tackle climate change and suggestions that carbon emissions impacts from waste activities are estimated as much as possible.
Commenting on the report, associate director of Zero Waste Europe, Mariel Vilella, said: “For far too long the climate impact of waste management has been overlooked. Now it’s clear that waste prevention, reuse and recycling are climate change solutions that need to be fully integrated into a low carbon economy. Both at the EU and international level, it is time to shift climate finance support to these climate-friendly options instead of waste incineration, which in fact contributes to climate change and displaces livelihoods of recyclers worldwide.”
The report has been published ahead of the COP21 UN global climate forum in Paris in December, and comes as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced his intention to work on the circular economy package of EU proposed legislation in 2016.
Françoise Bonnet, secretary general of ACR+ added: “Efficiency and smart waste management is key for a low carbon economy. Still, it is only the tip of the iceberg as a much bigger impact can be achieved through resource efficiency and adopting a life-cycle perspective.”
-Zero Waste Europe report: ‘The potential contribution of waste management to a low carbon economy’