Solid wastes are sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs), not only by its relation to production and consumption, but also because of methane (CH4) when disposed in dump or even in landfills.

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      The search for solutions to the proper management of solid waste has become a challenge for both the public sector and the private sector. There is concern, especially with regard to pollution of soil, air and water resources, as well as in understanding the mechanisms of mass biodegradation of waste and its influence on climate change and, by extension, in the lives of people.

      Solid wastes are sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs), not only by its relation to production and consumption, but also because of methane (CH4) when disposed in dumps or even in landfills.

      Treatment and disposal of waste can have both positive and negative climate impacts. Therefore, an increasingly central focus of waste management activities is to reduce GHG emissions.

      Waste management has at least five types of impacts on climate change, attributed to: (1) methane emissions from landfill; (2) reduction of the use and emissions due to recycling and reduction of industrial waste of energy; (3) energy recovery from waste; (4) carbon sequestration in forests due to decreased demand for virgin paper; and (5) energy used in the transport of waste over long distances.

      Studies on waste and climate change

      The international literature on the links between waste and climate change is largely focused on municipal solid waste in developed countries, and there is limited reference in comparing the impact of other waste streams or waste management in developing countries. The real magnitude of these emissions is difficult to determine because of the lack of data on waste generation in the world, composition, management and inaccuracies in emission models.

      Estimates GHG emissions from waste management practices tend to be based on methods such as assessment of the life cycle (LCA). LCA studies provided extremely useful analysis of the potential impacts and benefits of the various waste management options. However, due to the availability of data and resources, LCA studies are focused primarily on appropriate scenarios for developed countries.

      According to Waste and Climate Change: Global Trends and strategy framework (UNEP, 2010), the waste management industry is in a unique position to cease to be a relatively minor source of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) overall to become a major contributor to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Although lower levels of emissions are released through waste treatment and disposal, prevention and recycling of waste avoids emissions in other sectors of the economy. A holistic approach to waste management has positive consequences for GHG emissions from energy production sectors, agriculture, transport and manufacturing sectors. A report by the US Environmental Protection Agency - EPA estimated 42% of total GHG emissions in the US are associated with the management of materials (US EPA 2009).

      How emissions can be reduced?

      Methane recovery in landfills; incineration of waste with energy recovery; composting; recycling and waste minimization. Changes in lifestyle and behavior patterns can contribute to climate change mitigation.

      The landfill methane emissions represent the largest source of GHG emissions in the waste sector. Landfill remains the dominant waste disposal method in most parts of the world, and as landfill management improves in developing countries methane emissions are expected to increase. LFG capture can greatly reduce methane emissions and, where gas captured is used to generate energy, can lead to savings of greenhouse gases.

      There is general agreement across the industry of waste that the greatest benefit for the climate will be achieved through better materials management leading to waste prevention. Recycling of most materials results in improved economies of greenhouse gases. Overall, no waste and recovered materials represent the main activities for which the waste sector can contribute significantly to climate change mitigation.

      The solid waste management is a powerful tool to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) in Brazil and in the world where shared responsibility is fundamental to the necessary changes in the way we do things now, from the point of view of product, whether services.

      To strengthen waste management activities in the context of climate change, UNEP develops programs and projects to help its member countries to achieve better waste management. These programs and projects include Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) based on the 3R approach (reduce, recycle and reuse), sustainable consumption and production, e-waste management, converting agricultural biomass waste and plastic waste into energy and waste management hazardous.

      Access the publication Waste and Climate Change: Global trends and strategy framework that aims to analyze the impact of climate and benefit from the full range of waste practices and develop a framework for a coherent international strategy.


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