IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

10.2.3 Development trends for waste and wastewater

Waste and wastewater management are highly regulated within the municipal infrastructure under a wide range of existing regulatory goals to protect human health and the environment; promote waste minimization and recycling; restrict certain types of waste management activities; and reduce impacts to residents, surface water, groundwater and soils. Thus, activities related to waste and wastewater management are, and will continue to be, controlled by national regulations, regional restrictions, and local planning guidelines that address waste and wastewater transport, recycling, treatment, disposal, utilization, and energy use. For developing countries, a wide range of waste management legislation and policies have been implemented with evolving structure and enforcement; it is expected that regulatory frameworks in developing countries will become more stringent in parallel with development trends.

Depending on regulations, policies, economic priorities and practical local limits, developed countries will be characterized by increasingly higher rates of waste recycling and pre-treatment to conserve resources and avoid GHG generation. Recent studies have documented recycling levels of >50% for specific waste fractions in some developed countries (i.e., Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 2005). Recent US data indicate about 25% diversion, including more than 20 states that prohibit landfilling of garden waste (Simmons et al., 2006). In developing countries, a high level of labour-intensive informal recycling often occurs. Via various diversion and small-scale recycling activities, those who make their living from decentralized waste management can significantly reduce the mass of waste that requires more centralized solutions; however, the challenge for the future is to provide safer, healthier working conditions than currently experienced by scavengers on uncontrolled dumpsites. Available studies indicate that recycling activities by this sector can generate significant employment, especially for women, through creative microfinance and other small-scale investments. For example, in Cairo, available studies indicate that 7–8 daily jobs per ton of waste and recycling of >50% of collected waste can be attained (Iskandar, 2001).

Trends for sanitary landfilling and alternative waste-management technologies differ amongst countries. In the EU, the future landfilling of organic waste is being phased out via the landfill directive (Council Directive 1999/31/EC), while engineered gas recovery is required at existing sites (EU, 1999). This directive requires that, by 2016, the mass of biodegradable organic waste annually landfilled must be reduced 65% relative to landfilled waste in 1995. Several countries (Germany, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden) have accelerated the EU schedule through more stringent bans on landfilling of organic waste. As a result, increasing quantities of post-consumer waste are now being diverted to incineration, as well as to MBT before landfilling to 1) recover recyclables and 2) reduce the organic carbon content by a partial aerobic composting or anaerobic digestion (Stegmann, 2005). The MBT residuals are often, but not always, landfilled after achieving organic carbon reductions to comply with the EU landfill directive. Depending on the types and quality control of various separation and treatment processes, a variety of useful recycled streams are also produced. Incineration for waste-to-energy has been widely implemented in many European countries for decades. In 2002, EU WTE plants generated 41 million GJ of electrical energy and 110 million GJ of thermal energy (Themelis, 2003). Rates of incineration are expected to increase in parallel with implemention of the landfill directive, especially in countries such as the UK with historically lower rates of incineration compared to other European countries. In North America, Australia and New Zealand, controlled landfilling is continuing as a dominant method for large-scale waste disposal with mandated compliance to both landfilling and air-quality regulations. In parallel, larger quantities of landfill CH4 are annually being recovered, both to comply with air-quality regulations and to provide energy, assisted by national tax credits and local renewable-energy/green power initiatives (see Section 10.5). The US, Canada, Australia and other countries are currently studying and considering the widespread implementation of ‘bioreactor’ landfills to compress the time period during which high rates of CH4 generation occur (Reinhart and Townsend, 1998; Reinhart et al., 2002; Berge et al., 2005); bioreactors will also require the early implementation of engineered gas extraction. Incineration has not been widely implemented in these countries due to historically low landfill tipping fees in many regions, negative public perceptions and high capital costs. In Japan, where open space is very limited for construction of waste management infrastructure, very high rates of both recycling and incineration are practised and are expected to continue into the future. Historically, there have also been ‘semi-aerobic’ Japanese landfills with potential for N2O generation (Tsujimoto et al., 1994). Similar aerobic (with air) landfill practices have also been studied or implemented in Europe and the US for reduced CH4 generation rates as an alternative to, or in combination with, anaerobic (without air) practices (Ritzkowski and Stegmann, 2005).

In many developing countries, current trends suggest that increases in controlled landfilling resulting in anaerobic decomposition of organic waste will be implemented in parallel with increased urbanization. For rapidly growing ‘mega cities’, engineered landfills provide a waste disposal solution that is more environmentally acceptable than open dumpsites and uncontrolled burning of waste. There are also persuasive public health reasons for implementing controlled landfilling – urban residents produce more solid waste per capita than rural inhabitants, and large amounts of uncontrolled refuse accumulating in areas of high population density are linked to vermin and disease (Christensen, 1989). The process of converting open dumping and burning to engineered landfills implies control of waste placement, compaction, the use of cover materials, implementation of surface water diversion and drainage, and management of leachate and gas, perhaps applying an intermediate level of technology consistent with limited financial resources (Savage et al., 1998). These practices shift the production of CO2 (by burning and aerobic decomposition) to anaerobic production of CH4. This is largely the same transition that occurred in many developed countries in the 1950–1970 time frame. Paradoxically, this results in higher rates of CH4 generation and emissions than previous open-dumping and burning practices. In addition, many developed and developing countries have historically implemented large-scale aerobic composting of waste. This has often been applied to mixed waste, which, in practice, is similar to implementing an initial aerobic MBT process. However, source-separated biodegradable waste streams are preferable to mixed waste in order to produce higher quality compost products for horticultural and other uses (Diaz et al., 2002; Perla, 1997). In developing countries, composting can provide an affordable, sustainable alternative to controlled landfilling, especially where more labour-intensive lower technology strategies are applied to selected biodegradable wastes (Hoornweg et al., 1999). It remains to be seen if mechanized recycling and more costly alternatives such as incineration and MBT will be widely implemented in developing countries. Where decisions regarding waste management are made at the local level by communities with limited financial resources seeking the least-cost environmentally acceptable solution – often this is landfilling or composting (Hoornweg, 1999; Hoornweg et al., 1999; Johannessen and Boyer, 1999). Accelerating the introduction of landfill gas extraction and utilization can mitigate the effect of increased CH4 generation at engineered landfills. Although Kyoto mechanisms such as CDM and JI have already proven useful in this regard, the post-2012 situation is unclear.

With regard to wastewater trends, a current priority in developing countries is to increase the historically low rates of wastewater collection and treatment. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to reduce by 50% the number of people without access to safe sanitation by 2015. One strategy may be to encourage more on-site sanitation rather than expensive transport of sewerage to centralized treatment plants: this strategy has been successful in Dakar, Senegal, at the cost of about 400 US$ per household. It has been estimated that, for sanitation, the annual investment must increase from 4 billion US$ to 18 billion US$ to achieve the MDG target, mostly in East Asia, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank, 2005a).