Professor David C. Wilson
Waste & Resources Management Consultant
Visiting Professor in Waste Management
Imperial College, London

Waste and climate – an opportunity

STOP PRESS: DCW has been invited to speak at the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (apsrg) seminar on ‘COP21 and Waste: Exploring the Resource Industry’s Potential of Contributing to Climate Change Mitigation’ at Westminster on 10 December 2015.

POSTED 09 November, 2015. In the run-up to the Paris summit on climate change, the search is on for short and medium term opportunities to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission across the economy. Several recent reports have pointed to the potential for improved waste and resource management as one such ‘entry point’. Some major developed economies have already reduced total GHG emissions by 5% through reduction of methane emissions from landfill. Tackling food waste could reduce global GHG emissions by 9%. Overall, the recent UNEP Global Waste Management Outlook (edited by DCW) has estimated that improved waste and resource management has the potential to save 15-20% of global GHG emissions across the economy.

Waste management is a cross-cutting issue impacting on many aspects of society and the economy. The link between waste and climate is particularly important. Waste management is generally considered a small but important contributor to GHG emissions. Its direct contribution through methane (CH4) emissions from anaerobic decomposition of organic wastes at disposal sites was estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at around 3% of total GHG emissions in 2010. However, this figure grossly underestimates the potential contribution of improved waste and resource management to global GHG mitigation, both because it ignores savings already made prior to 2010, and because the IPCC has used a very narrow definition of the ‘waste sector’.

Planet-wide MSW generation in 2010 was dominated by high-income countries, which had already substantially reduced methane emissions from landfills. For example, changes in Germany’s waste sector between 1990 and 2006 reduced the country’s total GHG emissions by 5% , and this was in addition to the significant mitigation of methane emissions already achieved prior to 1990.

The IPCC sector estimates are necessarily carefully segmented to avoid any possibility of double counting. So their estimate also omits those emissions displaced through waste prevention, reuse, recycling and biogenic energy recovery, as these occur outside of the ‘waste sector’ – a point which has also been highlighted in a recent report prepared for Zero Waste Europe. An earlier study for the German government, using a life cycle approach, estimated that a 10-15% reduction in global GHG emissions could be achieved through improved solid waste management, including landfill mitigation and diversion, energy from waste and recycling.

Including waste prevention could further increase this estimate. An on-going UN project estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food waste is generated every year, representing one third of all food produced for human consumption. Prevention of this food waste would reduce total global GHG emissions by an amazing 9%: more than the total emissions of any country other than the US and China.

Overall, the GWMO concludes that the potential impact of improved waste and resource management on reducing GHG emissions across a broad range of economic sectors could be 15-20%.

DCW in Argentina

Professor David C Wilson visited Argentina earlier this month at the invitation of the British Embassy. The Embassy had been asked for help with addressing their solid waste management challenges by the Province of Buenos Aires, and commissioned DCW to assess the priority needs of the Province and to advise on where those needs are best matched by UK expertise. DCW was also a keynote speaker at a conference on 7 November organised by the University of San Martin.

DCW used the ‘Wasteaware’ Integrated Sustainable Waste Management (ISWM) benchmark indicators, which he has developed over the last 5 years with an international team, both to gather information on a systematic basis from meetings with local experts, and to provide a diagnostic tool for identifying priority needs at a high level. DCW presented a paper updating progress on developing the indicators at the ISWM World Congress in October 2013.

DCW gives opening keynote presentation at major UN conference in Tokyo

Professor David C Wilson gave the keynote presentation to open the Intersessional Conference on Building Partnerships for Moving towards Zero Waste, held in Tokyo, Japan from 16 to 18 February 2011. His subject was ‘Acting Alone to Partnerships – Strategic Approach for Sustainable Municipal Waste Management’, in which he drew in particular on his recent work for UN-Habitat. The conference contributed to deliberation on the theme of Waste Management at the 19th session of theUnited Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in May 2011, which in turn will feed into the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012. DCW’s presentation is now available.

The Tokyo conference was organized by the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) of the United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), in close collaboration with the United NationsCentre for Regional Development (UNCRD) and the Ministry of the Environment Japan.  

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established by the UN General Assembly in December 1992 to ensure effective follow-up of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit. The CSD meets annually in New York, in two-year cycles, with each cycle focusing on clusters of specific thematic and cross-sectoral issues: solid waste management is one of the current themes, as outlined in the multi-year programme of work (2003-2017)(E/CN.17/2003/6).

CSD-19 is the policy session where intergovernmental decisions are made on policy options for overcoming obstacles and challenges in solid waste management, while taking into account lessons learned and best practices in relation to the theme. The Tokyo conference aimed build on the outcome and recommendations of the CSD-18 (review session) as well as the “International Consultative Meeting on Expanding Waste Management Services in Developing Countries,” held in March 2010 as an intersessional meeting for CSD-18. 

The February 2011 conference brought together relevant stakeholders (including representatives from cities, public waste utilities, private sector, key research and policy institutes, community-managed waste management programmes, and international institutions, among others), to discuss possible policy recommendations that would contribute to expanding waste management services in developing countries. The conference aimed to identify constraints and obstacles in the implementation of waste management policies, and to explore ways and means in which these stakeholders could partner with each other to strengthen their collaborative efforts to deal with growing waste management challenges in the perspective of ever increasing urbanization and consumption trends.

DCW to chair European Waste Management 2010 conference

Professor David C Wilson will chair the first day of the European Waste Management 2010 conference in Brussels on 1 December 2010. The conference is aimed particularly at industry operating in Europe, and focuses on overcoming challenges in the implementation of the Waste Framework Directive whilst minimising a company’s environmental footprint. A recurring theme is the effective implementation of waste prevention, which is one of DCW’s particular current interests.

Professor David C Wilson chairs Torbay conference session

DCW will chair the session on managing household hazardous wastes at the CIWM 2008 conference, A World of Difference, in Torbay on Wednesday 11 June. DCW chairs CIWM’s Special Interest Group on hazardous wastes. Local authorities are increasingly seeking to collect separately the hazardous components of household waste – a particular focus of this session will be the new EU producer responsibility requirements for batteries, which will reach the UK statute book in 2008.

Prof David C Wilson chairs CIWM workshop

DCW chaired a workshop in London on 19 May 2008, Towards certainty in the use of organic MBT outputs. Mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) is expanding rapidly as a treatment method for residual municipal wastes in the UK, as local authorities rise to the challenge of meeting their targets for diversion from landfill: one output is an organic, ‘compost-like output’ which could potentially be used as a soli-improver. The Environment Agency have recently stated that MBT organic outputs will not be permitted for application to land where food crops may be grown, and invited the MBT industry to come forward with the evidence to support its application to land for non-food uses. This workshop brought the various stakeholders together to discuss alternative outlets for MBT organic outputs , and to discuss how to take up the challenge presented by the EA.