Holistic waste management

- an essential solution to the climate issue

Dipl.-Ing.(TU) Werner P. Bauer

When the BDE Bundesverband der Deutschen Entsorgungs-, Wasser- und Kreislaufwirtschaft e. V. (Federal Association of the German Waste Management, Water and Environmental Service Industries). whose member companies represent 75 percent of the turnover generated by the private sector, invites the public to a panel discussion at the European Union in Brussels, it carries weight.

All the more so when it comes to the question of whether an EU-wide landfill ban on untreated municipal waste is an urgently needed measure for climate and resource protection. The keynote speech was given by Dr. Bärbel Birnstengel of Prognos. She presented the results of a January 2022 study on the CO2 reduction potential of the European (EU+UK) waste management sector.

Under the more ambitious of the two projections, the current net CO2 emissions impact of 13 Mt CO2eq could result in a net CO2eq emissions avoidance of -283 Mt CO2eq. The climate-relevant savings potential would thus be almost 300 million t CO2eq if thermal recycling is seen as a "door opener for better, higher-quality and more environmentally friendly recycling" and landfills are subsequently closed. Reason enough to persuade the decision-makers in the Commission to act more quickly.

Ciobanu-Dordea, Director of Directorate B - Circular Economy in the Directorate General for the Environment of the European Commission since 1st of May 2022 stressed that there must be a majority in politics for these demands. He highlighted the EU's plans to landfill only ten percent of waste in Europe by 2035. He did not mention that the EU is already struggling to enforce the landfill directive.

What remains to be done?

From my point of view, it makes sense to name the link between landfilling and Greenhouse Gas wherever they are identifiable, but to be careful not to look for culprits. It is a matter of winning over the protagonists to overcome, step by step, this outdated way of dealing with waste and recyclable materials. Today I want to focus on how we name the problems. Prof. Themelis pointed me to the following study: Methane Generation and Capture of U.S. Landfills.

This study gives us a rough metric on the generation of methane from MSW landfills, which is on the average, 0.05 ton methane per ton of MSW landfilled annually.

The values are also consistent with the recent EPA draft Report on U.S. GHG emissions (US-GHG-Inventory-2023-Landfill emissions.pdf) and the statements of Prof. Gerhard Rettenberger and

"end the decades-old argument as to how much methane is generated in sanitary landfilling." (NJTh)

With this figure everyone can show in their country, or in their city how high the GHG emissions from their landfills are. If there is a gas collection, these numbers are simply subtracted.

You are welcome to place this as a personal comment to this blog.

Werner Bauer
Member of Board of Directors of GWC


Dear friends
Themelis and Bourtsalas (2021, look up Google) added up the MSW landfilled in all US operating landfills (about 1100) and the total was 317 million metric tons of MSW in US. NJT
18.04.2023 17:46:06

Dear friends, Waste Management World (WMW) has published a brief article of mine quantifying, for the first time, what is the average expected generation from a landfill of a given annual capacity (see link below). This article also shows the capture of methane achieved at the U.S. sanitary landfills.
By useing the 0.05 t CH4/ton MSW to calculate the CO2 emissions from all the landfilled waste in your country you can compare the sum to current estimated of CO2 emission in yur country.
18.04.2023 10:24:14

There is a lot of data for landfilling and in the US the landfill industry has managed to defend a system based on misleading and false information. One example is the 2018 NASA/NOAA study focused on the largest methane source emitters in California. Landfills with and without methane capture were identified as the number one source. The data showed that the oil and gas industry as well as the dairy industry accounted to 26% each. Landfills on the other hand accounted for over 40% of the key source emitters.
There are many more sources that discuss the overstatement of landfill gas collection in the US.
You can find another one in the following link:

The problems with landfilling in the US go much deeper.
The bottom line: The false perception of cheap - through not recognized heavy subsidies - landfilling has hindered the development of a much more sustainable waste and thus materials management system in the US.
Avoidance and recycling will continue to fail and the throwaway society with its impacts on the environment and economy will remain. Despite stated official numbers the US can be assumed to still landfill the same percentage as it did 30 years ago (about 70%). Sustainable waste and materials management isn't possible in the US until landfilling is recognized as the fundamental obstacle.
07.04.2023 15:12:14

Please log in to leave a comment!