Monday, December 13, 2010

The Tangled Web of Waste

Published in ECO ISSUE NO 10 VOLUME CXXVII December 9th, 2010

Once again, the United Nations Environment Programme has done its homework in Cancun. The newly published study Waste and Climate Change: Global Trends and Strategy Framework presents a comprehensive approach to waste reduction and recycling that takes into account the environmental and social impacts of landfill gas systems (LFG) and waste incineration.

But at the same time, the new report raises concern. There is an apparent double standard between what the report says and what the UNEP´s Risoe Centre of Analysis is actually supporting. Unfortunately, the Centre´s head insisted on promoting waste-to-energy technologies in the CDM pipeline at a press conference to launch the report held earlier this week.



The good news is that the UNEP report draws attention to waste management, as landfills are an important source of methane, definitely a key target for climate action. This is important because rapid urbanisation in developing countries, where waste management systems remain largely unregulated, has led to an increase in landfilling.

The UNEP report does a good job when it emphasizes that waste reduction is by far the best approach to waste management, and recycling is indisputably the next best. And it wisely focuses on a number of environmental problems related to waste incineration and LFG, including soil contamination and toxic emissions.

The report also acknowledges the risk and damage that these end-of-pipe technologies have on the informal recycling sector. There are 15 million people worldwide who earn their livelihood through recycling, and their health and lives are threatened when otherwise recyclable materals are destroyed in incinerators and landfills.

Given all that, why did the press conference panel say that they support expansion of LFG in Africa through the CDM? The panelists said that carbon markets can develop waste-to-energy projects as the way to deal with methane emissions.



Hang on a minute! Did they actually read the report that they were launching? And is the UNEP going to act on its own report, or will its implementation programme be driven by politics and the commercial interests of the privatized waste sector?

ECO would like the Risoe Centre to recall that the methodologies for solid waste management projects were called into revision by the CDM’s Methodology Panel last week in Cancun. We expect this will highlight that these end-of-pipe technologies are far from being science-based safe solutions.

So we had good news in the beginning and huge questions in the end. Perhaps the written words of the report will remain, while the spoken words will be gone with the wind.

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