Organic waste accounts for over 20% of global methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas and a major climate change contributor. Sustainable waste management systems and infrastructure are needed to reduce these emissions to keep global warming below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-recommended 1.5 °C.
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How Does Organic Waste Contribute to Climate Change?
Organic waste, such as food scraps, vegetables, and fruits, accounts for approximately 65% of waste. When this waste reaches landfills, it decomposes anaerobically in the presence of bacteria. As a result, it produces greenhouse gases such as methane, which has an 80 times greater potential to cause global warming than carbon dioxide.
Methane reduction is essential to achieving the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement, which can be carried out by managing organic waste correctly and sustainably.
Solutions to Reduce Methane and Carbon Emissions from Organic Waste
Compost and biochar
Composting is a biological process that uses controlled aerobic decomposition to convert organic waste into compost, a natural fertilizer.
Compost helps mitigate climate change by diverting food and organic waste from landfills, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Biochar is a carbon-rich soil amendment produced by the low-oxygen combustion of organic waste (wood waste).
When biochar is produced from agricultural waste, the carbon in those materials is stored, keeping it from being released into the atmosphere.
Biochar and compost can strengthen farms and crops against climate change. They enhance the soil's ability to store and filter water, making it more resistant to the frequent and severe effects of heavy rains, heat waves, and drought induced by climate change.
Biogas is produced by fermenting or anaerobic decomposing biomass, such as agricultural residue, food waste, and organic waste.
Biogas reduces carbon and methane emissions while creating cleaner fuel for electricity, cooking, and lighting. Therefore, biogas, as opposed to wood and fossil fuels as a domestic energy source, can help mitigate climate change.
Rehabilitation of landfills
Open landfills endanger people and the environment's health and safety. However, they can be modified to include an environmental management system that stores and oxidizes methane gas as soon as it is produced.
Global Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Production via Waste Management
Below are some effective regulations and unique waste management practices to reduce methane production from organic waste.
South Korea's food and organic waste system
Diversifying organic waste is an efficient method for preventing it from entering landfills. Waste generators can also separate organic waste at the source or municipal waste facility.
South Korea recycles 95% of its organic waste and has one of the world's most successful food and organic waste diversion systems.
In addition, multiple regulations exist in Korea to fight food waste, including a landfill ban enacted in 2005 and a weight-based food disposal and collection scheme implemented in 2014.
Residents must buy biodegradable bags for food waste to balance recycling and treatment costs. In urban areas, they carry the waste to community bins equipped with an RFID chip reader to pay for their trash accordingly.
EU waste framework directive
The EU waste framework and landfill directive have collaborated to minimize the overall quantity of waste going to landfills, including organic waste, by promoting organic waste recycling and source separation. This framework also involves collecting and safely using methane and landfill gas to reduce environmental effects.
GAIA Report Findings and Zero-Waste Systems
The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) published a new report on the crucial role of waste management in decreasing emissions and achieving Paris climate agreement objectives.
According to the report, implementing zero-waste systems in cities worldwide is one of the quickest and most cost-effective solutions to prevent the planet from exceeding the 1.5 °C warming threshold established by the Paris Agreement. In addition, the widespread adoption of recycling, composting, and production cuts will reduce waste-related emissions by 84%.
The report discovered that improved changes in organic waste management could result in a global reduction of 1.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and 42 million tons of methane emissions.
It is widely acknowledged that efficient waste management could positively impact the climate. As a result, international organizations, such as UNEP, are actively directing various waste and climate change-related projects. However, a lack of a unified strategy has led to gaps, duplication, and geographical disparities in these projects.
A central mechanism must collaborate with established organizations to ensure global availability and distribution of relevant information, efficient use of resources to accomplish climate targets via integrated waste management practices, and rapid transfer of efficient, simple, and proven technologies and knowledge to developing nations.
Continue Reading: Trash Mountains: How are They Contributing to Climate Change?
References and Further Reading
Allan, R. P., Hawkins, E., Bellouin, N., & Collins, B. (2021). IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf
Bertrand, S., Roberts, A. S., & Walker, E. (2022). Biochar and Compost for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation. [Online]. EESI. Available at: https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/biochar-and-compost-for-climate-change-adaptation-and-mitigation (Accessed on November 24 2022).
CCAC. (2022). Biogas, a Climate and Clean Air Solution with Many Benefits. [Online]. Climate & Clean Air Coalition. Available at: https://www.ccacoalition.org/en/news/biogas-climate-and-clean-air-solution-many-benefits (Accessed on November 23 2022).
European Commission. (2022). EU Rules Aim to Limit the Amount of Waste Sent to Landfill to the Necessary Minimum. [Online]. Available at: https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/waste-and-recycling/landfill-waste_en (Accessed on November 24 2022).
European Commission. (2022). The Waste Framework Directive Sets the Basic Concepts and Definitions Related to Waste Management, Including Definitions of Waste, Recycling and Recovery. [Online]. Available at: https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/waste-and-recycling/waste-framework-directive_en#ref-2023-wfd-revision (Accessed on November 24 2022).
GAIA. (2022). Zero Waste to Zero Emissions: How Reducing Waste is a Climate Game changer. [Online]. GAIA. Available at: https://www.no-burn.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Zero-Waste-to-Zero-Emissions-2.pdf (Accessed on November 24 2022).
Hall, A. L., Potts, M. D., & Silver, W. L. (2022). The near-term potential of organic waste management infrastructure for soil carbon sequestration in rangelands. Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.1088/2634-4505/ac970f
Kaza, S., Yao, L., Bhada-Tata, P., & Van Woerden, F. (2018). What a waste 2.0: a Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. World Bank Publications. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/30317
Kim, M. (2022). The Country Winning the Battle on Food Waste. [Online]. Huffington Post. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/food-waste-south-korea-seoul_n_5ca48bf7e4b0ed0d780edc54?guccounter=1 (Accessed on November 23 2022).