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Waste as a Resource: an Excerpt from European Environment Agency

In line with the earlier promise I made in my last post on e-waste to share knowledge of Waste-Wealth initiatives. Here is an important note for EEA.

What if we could use waste as a resource and thereby scale down the demand for extraction of new resources? Extracting fewer materials and using existing resources would help avert some of the impacts created along the chain. In this context, unused waste also represents a potential loss.

Turning waste into a resource by 2020 is one of the key objectives of the EU’s Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe. The roadmap also highlights the need to ensure high-quality recycling, eliminate landfilling, limit energy recovery to non-recyclable materials, and stop illegal shipments of waste.

And it is possible to achieve these things. In many countries, kitchen and gardening waste constitutes the biggest fraction of municipal solid waste. This type of waste, when collected separately, can be turned into an energy source or fertiliser. Anaerobic digestion is a waste treatment method that involves submitting bio-waste to a biological decomposition process similar to the one in landfills, but under controlled conditions. Anaerobic digestion produces biogas and residual material, which in turn can be used as fertiliser, like compost.

An EEA study from 2011 looked at the potential gains from better management of municipal waste. Its findings are striking. Improved management of municipal waste between1995 and 2008 resulted in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, mainly attributable to lower methane emissions from landfill and emissions avoided through recycling. If, by 2020, all countries fully meet the Landfill Directive’s landfill diversion targets, they could cut an additional 62 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from the life cycle — which would be a significant contribution to the EU’s climate change mitigation efforts.

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Ibrahim Akibu Ja'afaru,

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