Working Group III: Mitigation

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3.7.5 Technological and Economic Potential

Economic analysis of waste management strategies yields widely varying results, with far less reliable standard cost estimates than in fields such as energy production. In the USA, the most successful communities report that ambitious waste reduction, recycling, and composting programmes cost no more than waste disposal, and often cost significantly less (US EPA, 1999c). Overall, average recycling costs appear to be slightly above landfill disposal costs (Ackerman, 1997). Not all waste management strategies have been fully analyzed for their economic potential or distributional cost and benefit implications. The waste hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle, incinerate, landfill) on which many countries’ waste policies are based has not been comprehensively evaluated on a country and materials specific basis (Bystroem and Loennstedt, 1997).

Integrated waste management that considers environmental protection, economic efficiency, social acceptability, flexibility, transparency, market-oriented recovery and recycling, appropriate economies of scale, and continuous improvement is being developed throughout Europe (Franke et al., 1999).

Considering only GHG emissions, the most favourable management options are those that reduce fossil fuels use in manufacturing as does recycling, or replace them as does incineration with energy recovery. There is, however, disagreement over the most ecological waste disposal method. Some argue for incineration of all solid waste in modern, energy recovering incinerators (Pipatti and Savolainen, 1996; Aumonier, 1996); others advocate increased composting and anaerobic digestion of organic wastes (Ackerman, 1997; Dehoust et al., 1998; Finnveden and Thomas, 1998; Ligon, 1999). The estimated GHG emissions for different scenarios depend heavily on the parameter assumptions made in each model. If GHGs from waste disposal are the only concern, incineration with energy recovery is the most favourable solution. If economic and other environmental factors (e.g., emissions of heavy metals) are taken into account the answer is less clear. Also, if the whole life cycle and not just the disposal of the material is considered, recycled materials usually are associated with lower GHG emissions than virgin materials. Numerous technologies appropriate to differing national needs are available at a range of technological complexities for reducing GHGs from waste. Many options are highly cost effective, and can lead to significant reductions on the order of several per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions. Source reduction is indisputably the most environmentally sound and cost effective tool to reduce GHG emissions from solid waste.

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