DCW looks back on his CIWM Presidential year

Professor David C. Wilson’s final contribution to the CIWM Journal took the form of an interview in which he looked back on his Presidential year. This web-posting also includes an index of and links to his monthly columns for the CIWM journal, many of which were ‘think-pieces’ on issues in which he has been involved for years or even decades. Among the questions covered in the final interview were: has any topic dominated the year (yes, plastics – both marine plastics and the ‘China ban’); and what would be your advice to Enda Kiernan and future CIWM Presidents (‘Be true to yourself’ – which the editor also used as this month’s headline).
Interviews and DCW’s theme for the year:

  • Dec 2018: ‘Be true to yourself’. DCW looks back on his year as president. PDF attached at end of post.
  • Dec 2017: A key utility service. DCW revisited his Presidential address to further explain his key themes for the year ahead. The overarching theme was to have solid waste management recognised as an essential utility service.
  • Nov 2017: One small step. The editor Ben Wood introduced DCW, his story in waste and his hopes for his Presidential year. PDF attached at end of post.


  • Oct 2018: Plastics – diabolic or fantastic? How to respond to the crisis of plastics entering our oceans? Which plastic uses are diabolic and which fantastic?
  • Jun 2018: How to influence people. DCW reported on CIWM’s role in influencing the UK’s initiative on marine plastics which was announced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April 2018.
  • Apr 2018: China – coming full circle. In the wake of the current China-induced recycling crisis in the West, DCW gave his personal perspective on China’s journey in waste management and recycling over the last 30-40 years and moving forward…
  • Feb 2018: Turning the tide. Where do plastics entering the ocean come from, and how do we turn the tide?

Promoting waste reduction and recycling:

  • Sep 2018: Charge! DCW reflected on the challenges of devising the right policies to charge households for solid waste management services
  • May 2018: Revaluing recycling. DCW argued that we need to rethink recycling if it is to become sustainable and proposed a framework for doing so, by considering the embodied social, environmental and technical values alongside the market price.
  • Jan 2018: Inspiring reuse. DCW showcased the five inspiring projects shortlisted for Best Reuse or Waste Prevention Project at the CIWM Sustainability and Resource Awards 2017.

Waste and climate

  • Jul 2018: Don’t waste our climate. DCW made the case for resource and waste management as an entry point to achieve significant climate mitigation. The article was subsequently re-published by the National Solid Waste  Association of India (NSWAI) in their member journal Waste Monitor in July 2019.
  • Website May 2018: Uncontrolled burning of solid waste as a significant contributor to climate change. DCW reported on current research at Imperial College London.

Tackling the global waste crisis

  • Website Nov 2018: DCW awards his Presidential Medal to Mike Webster, Founder and CEO of the charity Wasteaid.
  • Website Oct 2018: Tackling the global waste crisis through community waste management. DCW reported on two papers in the peer-reviewed literature, which follow-up on the CIWM-Waste aid toolkit Making Waste Work.
  • Dec 2017: A key utility service. A key theme for DCW’s Presidential year was to highlight the global waste crisis, the 3 billion people who lack access to basic SWM services.
  • Website Nov 2017: DCW launches toolkit for community waste management. Introducing DCW’s Presidential Report, the CIWM-Wasteaid Toolkit Making Waste Work. The Toolkit includes a dozen How-to-do-it Guides to enable local entrepreneurs to implement simple technologies using organics and low-value plastics in the waste.

Other DCW areas of interest or ‘hobby horses’:

  • Aug 2018: Hazardous waste – plus ça change. DCW reflected on 40 years of involvement with hazardous waste policy, and concluded that the current and future challenges identified by CIWM’s Hazardous Waste Special Interest Group have changed relatively little over the years.
  • Mar 2018: Let’s skip “the tip”. DCW argued that terms such as “the tip”, “rubbish”, “refuse” and arguably “tipping”, have no place in the vocabulary of the professional waste and resource manager.

Don’t waste our climate

In his July column, CIWM President David C Wilson makes the case for more investment in resource and waste management as an ‘entry point’ to achieve significant climate mitigation. The sector already has a track record in developed countries, with methane mitigation from landfill since the 1970s, and both methane mitigation and recycling making a major contribution to meeting Kyoto Convention greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets between 1990 and 2010. But that early success also means that the IPCC’s 2010 assessment is that the ‘waste’ sector only contributes 3-5% to current GHG emissions. DCW argues that this is a gross underestimate which fails to consider: the current emissions from uncontrolled burning; historical reductions; contributions across the economy from recycling; and waste prevention (particularly food waste).  The results suggest that better resource and waste management has the potential for reducing GHG emissions across the World economy by 15, 20 or 25% or even more. Such numbers may be guesstimates, but whatever number we choose to use, the message is still the same. Further investment in this sector, in both developing and developed countries, is a major political priority in order to meet our climate targets.

This article was subsequently re-published by the National Solid Waste  Association of India (NSWAI) in their member journal Waste Monitor in July 2019.

Uncontrolled burning of solid waste as a significant contributor to climate change

To qualify for inclusion in the official (IPCC) inventory of greenhouse gases (GHGs), data for an emission source must meet a quality threshold. This currently excludes black carbon emissions from the open burning of wastes. The relative quantities may be small compared to carbon dioxide from fossil fuels or methane from landfill, but black carbon is around 2,000 more powerful than CO₂ as a GHG and has an even shorter half-life than methane. In the absence of real data, early modelling studies using broad assumptions suggested that black carbon from open burning contributes 5% of total global GHG emissions, causing 270,000 premature deaths a year. DCW’s PhD student at Imperial College London, Natalia Reyna, has been working for the last four years to provide real data which would meet the IPCC requirements. Our first paper, published this month in the leading journal Environmental Research, presents field data from Mexico on how much solid wastes are disposed of by open burning, either by households or at uncontrolled dumpsites. The results suggest a GHG contribution from uncontrolled burning in backyards in Mexico fifteen times larger compared to methane released from the decomposition of equivalent amounts of waste in a disposal site. This suggests that urgent action is needed to reduce domestic open burning of waste and that this would have a significant impact, both on improving local air quality and respiratory health, and on reducing climate change. A future paper will present data on emission factors, i.e. how much black carbon is produced by burning a kilogram of waste.

A key utility service

In his first monthly column in the CIWM Journal as CIWM President, Professor David C. Wilson has revisited his Presidential address. His overall theme for the year is solid waste management as a key utility service, underpinning modern society. Within that three strands are to avoid complacency when it comes to protecting public health and the environment; the continuing move from the linear ‘make – use – dispose’ model to a more circular economy; and the global waste crisis, with more than 3 billion people lacking access to a basic solid waste management service.
DCW writes: ‘“Let us work together to promote the fact that solid waste management is one of the essential utility services underpinning our society. Let us ensure that the regular, daily delivery of that service to protect public health and the environment is not undermined, either by on-going cuts in local authority spending or by deregulation following Brexit”. And again: “It is simply unacceptable that 40% of the World’s population lack this basic utility service that we take for granted. We need to ensure that waste collection is extended to all people, and that uncontrolled dumping and open burning is eliminated.”


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%.