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

10.4.5 Waste reduction, re-use and recycling

Quantifying the GHG-reduction benefits of waste minimization, recycling and re-use requires the application of LCA tools (Smith et al., 2001). Recycling reduces GHG emissions through lower energy demand for production (avoided fossil fuel) and by substitution of recycled feedstocks for virgin materials. Efficient use of materials also reduces waste. Material efficiency can be defined as a reduction in primary materials for a particular purpose, such as packaging or construction, with no negative impact on existing human activities. At several stages in the life cycle of a product, material efficiency can be increased by more efficient design, material substitution, product recycling, material recycling and quality cascading (use of recycled material for a secondary product with lower quality demands). Both material recycling and quality cascading occur in many countries at large scale for metals recovery (steel, aluminium) and recycling of paper, plastics and wood. All these measures lead to indirect energy savings, reductions in GHG emissions, and avoidance of GHG generation. This is especially true for products resulting from energy-intensive production processes such as metals, glass, plastic and paper (Tuhkanen et al., 2001).

The magnitude of avoided GHG-emissions benefits from recycling is highly dependent on the specific materials involved, the recovery rates for those materials, the local options for managing materials, and (for energy offsets) the specific fossil fuel avoided (Smith et al., 2001). Therefore, existing studies are often not comparable with respect to the assumptions and calculations employed. Nevertheless, virtually all developed countries have implemented comprehensive national, regional or local recycling programmes. For example, Smith et al. (2001) thoroughly addressed the GHG-emission benefits from recycling across the EU, and Pimenteira et al. (2004) quantified GHG emission reductions from recycling in Brazil.

10.4.6 Wastewater and sludge treatment

There are many available technologies for wastewater management, collection, treatment, re-use and disposal, ranging from natural purification processes to energy-intensive advanced technologies. Although decision-making tools are available that include environmental trade-offs and costs (Ho, 2000), systematic global studies of GHG-reduction potentials and costs for wastewater are still needed. When efficiently applied, wastewater transport and treatment technologies reduce or eliminate GHG generation and emissions; in addition, wastewater management promotes water conservation by preventing pollution, reducing the volume of pollutants, and requiring a smaller volume of water to be treated. Because the size of treatment systems is primarily governed by the volume of water to be treated rather than the mass loading of nitrogen and other pollutants, smaller volumes mean that smaller treatment plants with lower capital costs can be more extensively deployed. Wastewater collection and transport includes conventional (deep) sewerage and simplified (shallow) sewerage. Deep sewerage in developed countries has high capital and operational costs. Simplified (shallow) sewerage in both developing and developed countries uses smaller-diameter piping and shallower excavations, resulting in lower capital costs (30–50%) than deep systems.

Wastewater treatment removes pollutants using a variety of technologies. Small wastewater treatment systems include pit latrines, composting toilets and septic tanks. Septic tanks are inexpensive and widely used in both developed and developing countries. Improved on-site treatment systems used in developing countries include inverted trench systems and aerated treatment units. More advanced treatment systems include activated sludge treatment, trickling filters, anaerobic or facultative lagoons, anaerobic digestion and constructed wetlands. Depending on scale, many of these systems have been used in both developed and developing countries. Activated sludge treatment is considered the conventional method for large-scale treatment of sewage. In addition, separation of black water and grey water can reduce the overall energy requirements for treatment (UNEP/GPA-UNESCO/IHE, 2004). Pretreatment or limitation of industrial wastes is often necessary to limit excessive pollutant loads to municipal systems, especially when wastewaters are contaminated with heavy metals. Sludges (or biosolids) are the product of most wastewater treatment systems. Options for sludge treatment include stabilization, thickening, dewatering, anaerobic digestion, agricultural re-use, drying and incineration. The use of composted sludge as a soil conditioner in agriculture and horticulture recycles carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (and other elements essential for plant growth). Heavy metals and some toxic chemicals are difficult to remove from sludge; either the limitation of industrial inputs or wastewater pretreatment is needed for agricultural use of sludges. Lower quality uses for sludge may include mine site rehabilitation, highway landscaping, or landfill cover (including biocovers). Some sludges are landfilled, but this practice may result in increased volatile siloxanes and H2S in the landfill gas. Treated wastewater can either be re-used or discharged, but re-use is the most desirable option for agricultural and horticultural irrigation, fish aquaculture, artificial recharge of aquifers, or industrial applications.