I am pleased that the RICS Land Journal has published online an updated version of my article on the untapped potential for the waste and resource management sector to act as an enabler to unlock significant climate mitigation benefits across the economy. My best estimate of the mitigation potential is at least 15-20% of global carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions, which is far beyond the IPCC’s estimate of 3% for the narrowly defined end-of-the linear-economy ‘waste’ sector, which is necessarily used in official climate reporting to avoid double counting.
This post supercedes that titled ‘COP26 and the waste and resource sector’, first published on 25 October 2022:
How much can better waste and resource management contribute to mitigating global heating? Prof David C Wilson addressed this question at the Policy Connect Sustainable Resource Forum seminar on October 11 2021. The answer with a high level of confidence is ‘significantly’, perhaps 15-20% of global carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions. DCW has now written this up as a ‘thought piece’, making the case for prioritising actions at COP26 and beyond to improve waste and resource management and move towards the circular economy. This may be found as both an article and as a video interview on WasteAid’s COP26 online hub; as a feature on CIWM’s Circular Online; and as an ISWA guest blog.
DCW was sent a copy of Practical Action’s new report ‘Managing Our Wastes 2021’ a few weeks ago and invited to write an endorsement for it. Having read and reviewed it, I was happy to do so; the report was launched today in a webinar hosted by UN-Habitat. The full text of what I wrote appears after the foreword by Practical Action’s Patron, Prince Charles.
‘Solid waste management is the ‘Cinderella’ among the essential utility services. Despite the crisis of some 40 per cent of the world’s population having no access, it has received very limited attention from either international agencies or mainstream development charities. I have been supporting Practical Action for nearly 50 years, so I warmly welcome this important new report which fills that gap. Most development work tackles the issue from the ‘top down’, and often focuses on (large scale) infrastructure. Much of my work over the last 25 years has focused on expanding performance assessment and planning of SWM systems in developing countries to include governance (including stakeholder inclusivity) alongside technical aspects; and to consider the often ‘informal’ recycling sector alongside ‘formal’ municipal waste management. Practical Action has taken that one step further, to strengthen the ‘bottom-up’, people-centred aspects. Sustainable waste and resource management needs to work for the poorest people, providing both a quality service which keeps slum areas clean and healthy, and a decent livelihood for the multitude of workers who deliver collection and recycling services. Both the revised assessment methods, the four insightful case studies and the four priority themes work well. I commend to you this important new manifesto to put people back at the centre of how we manage our solid wastes.’
Professor David C. Wilson. Visiting Professor in Resource and Waste Management, Imperial College London; Lead author of UNEP’s Global Waste Management Outlook
Professor David C Wilson welcomes the only waste-related official side event at COP26 which is being held in Glasgow today at 1315 and available to watch on the United Nations – Climate Change COP 26 YouTube channel. That the topic is ‘A wasted opportunity: open burning of waste causes a climate and health calamity’ is an added bonus. Congratulations to ISWA, Wasteaid, Engineering X and partners for getting both waste and open burning on the official COP26 agenda!
To ‘eliminate uncontrolled disposal and open burning of waste’ is the second of the waste-related SDGs set out in UNEP and ISWA’s inaugural Global Waste Management Outlook (2015), for which DCW was the lead author. It is one of the two indicators within SDG indicator 11.6.1, for which UN-Habitat have recently published guidance. The climate heating implications of black carbon from open burning of waste have been demonstrated by Natalia Reyna, DCW and co-authors, who estimated that it is responsible for between 2-10% of global CO₂ equivalent emissions. The serious health impacts of open burning have been highlighted in a recent report by Engineering X, who are now leading an international collaboration to support its phasing out – DCW has joined their Technical Advisory Group. Open burning is also a major campaign issue for the charities Wasteaid, of which DCW is a Patron, and Tearfund, to whom DCW has provided advice on their ‘burning issue’ report.
Black carbon (BC) emissions from the open burning of municipal solid wastes (MSW) and other waste types contribute significantly to global heating but are not yet included in the official (IPCC) inventory of greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to poor data availability. Natalia Reyna has just completed her PhD thesis at Imperial College London, co-supervised by Professors David C Wilson and Stephen R. Smith, with the aim of generating reliable data to plug that gap. Our second and final paper was published last week in the leading journal Atmospheric Environment, providing a reliable methodology for measuring emission factors (EFs) for black carbon from waste burning. i.e. how much black carbon is produced by burning a kilogram of waste. The two papers have been submitted as evidence to the IPCC sixth assessment study due to be published in 2021.
When the measured emission factors are combined with our earlier measurements of the extent of open burning of municipal solid wastes in Mexico; other published estimates of waste composition and activity levels around the world; and a range of estimates of the global warming potential of black carbon as compared to CO₂; our best estimate of the contribution of BC from the open burning of MSW to global heating is in the range 2-10% of global CO₂Eq emissions. Given the associated air pollution and health impacts, urgent global action is essential to eliminate open burning of waste; this will provide a relatively ‘quick win’ in tackling the global climate emergency.
A short article reporting this research appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of CIWM’s new, award-winning magazine Circular.
CIWM President, and Chair of CIWM’s Hazardous Waste Special Interest Group (SIG), David C Wilson reflects in his August CIWM column on the challenges facing hazardous waste management in the UK and Ireland – past, present and future. His review with the SIG of current challenges suggests that not much has changed over the 44 years of his involvement with the hazardous waste sector. In particular, the UK continues to lack the ‘regulatory certainty’ which is necessary to secure the investment required in hazardous waste management infrastructure if such investment is left entirely to ‘the market’. And looking at the island of Ireland in particular, the uncertainties around Brexit do not help.
DCW’s Presidential year at CIWM continues to be dominated by marine plastics. As part of our efforts to influence developing UK policy in this area, CIWM and Wasteaid published a report: ‘FROM THE LAND TO THE SEA: How better solid waste management can improve the lives of the world’s poorest and halve the quantity of plastic entering the oceans’. His June CIWM column reports success: the day before the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April, Theresa May announced a new Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA) backed by a £61.4 million funding package of funding to help tackle marine plastics, of which more than £20 million would help developing country members of the CCOA improve waste management at a national and city level.