Waste in the Net-Zero Century: How Better Waste Management Practices Can Contribute to Reducing Global Carbon Emissions

6th July 2021

by Dr Debbie Fletcher, Ann Ballinger, Lily Chapman

Eunomia was commissioned by TOMRA to undertake research to establish the contribution that municipal waste management makes to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and how waste can be better managed in the future to reduce its carbon impact.

The 21st century will be defined by humanity’s ability to reach net zero carbon emissions and the consequences of its success or failure to do so. Waste management has a big role to play in reducing GHG emissions to a sustainable level. Globally, 2.02 billion tonnes of municipal waste are generated every year, according to 2016 figures, and this is only predicted to increase in the future.

Through implementing ‘good practice’ waste management and recycling solutions around the world the report estimates that GHG emissions can be reduced by between 2.1 and 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050, around 5% of global GHG emissions. Implementing ‘good practice’ solutions switches the global waste management from one that generates emissions to one that generates a net saving of 0.8 to 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2.

The report identifies 3 readily available solutions that should be the focus of ‘good practice’ waste management systems:

  • Effective collection and sorting of recyclable materials and food waste;
  • Moving ‘open dump’ waste into managed residual treatment; and
  • Undertaking mixed waste sorting of residual waste to remove remaining recyclables prior to incineration or landfill.

Through implementing these already-deliverable measures the waste management sector can: make significant carbon reductions and buy time for sectors that are harder to decarbonise; increase amounts of recyclate and shift consumption habits towards a circular system that helps minimize global temperature rise; and prevent pollution of rivers, seas and oceans through the improved capture of materials.

This report is available free of charge. Press the orange button and provide a few details about yourself to access the download.