Waste & Recycling

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Greenhouse Gas Emissions

With Canada recently becoming a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, which translates into reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 10 per cent from 1990 levels, GHGs are fast becoming a topical issue a...


With Canada recently becoming a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, which translates into reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 10 per cent from 1990 levels, GHGs are fast becoming a topical issue across all industries. (See news items, page 28.)

Within the waste management sector GHGs have long been an area of concern but the focus on Kyoto provides an opportunity to review the correlation between various waste management options and GHG emissions.

Deciding on the right mix of waste management options is never a “one size fits all” proposition. On the contrary, the mix is usually determined by local factors such as: economics, geographic circumstances, social preferences and political factors. Now, however, waste managers also have the ability to determine the correlation between their community’s available waste management options and the respective GHG emissions arising from these options.

Residential waste management

According to Canada’s GHG Inventory dated April 2001, landfill emissions account for 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents. Materials degrading in a landfill are a major source of methane (a potent GHG), with food wastes being the single largest source of GHGs generated by landfilling. The next major sources are office paper, mixed paper and corrugated boxboard. The emissions from the landfilling of inorganic materials (such as metal, glass and plastics) are relatively insignificant.

In a recently released report entitled Opportunities for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Residential Waste Management, the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) builds on research to further estimate the sources of GHG emissions.

The study confirms that source reduction, which reduces the amount of material used in a particular application, usually provides more benefit in terms of reducing GHGs than any other waste management option. This is due mainly to the GHG reduction in raw material acquisition and in the different manufacturing stages of the lifecycle.

Recycling results in GHG-reduction benefits because it displaces the emissions arising from the manufacturing of virgin materials. The net-GHG benefit takes into account the emissions involved in collection, transportation and reprocessing of waste materials for recycling.

According to the study, composting the estimated 1,400 kilotonnes of food waste in Canada currently landfilled would reduce GHG emissions by 771,000 of CO2 per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 206,000 automobiles.

Energy recovery is another option that can result in a significant reduction in GHG emissions. Maximizing the benefits of GHG reduction through energy recovery can be done with facilities that are highly efficient, as is seen in some European countries. These facilities have the capability to produce electricity and steam for heating and hot water.

Leading-edge tool

Municipalities looking for specific GHG emission information regarding the waste management options in their communities — including collection, transportation, and materials handling — can turn to the computer-based Integrated Waste Management (IWM) Model. EPIC and Corporations Supporting Recycling (CSR), with support from Environment Canada and several Canadian municipalities as partners, developed this free tool to help evaluate the environmental and economic impacts of a municipality’s waste management decisions. The IWM Model can be downloaded directly from the EPIC and CSR web sites at www.plastics.ca and www.csr.org

For example, with regard to collection and transportation, it asks the user to input data reflecting the distance travelled by garbage trucks, recycling trucks and yard waste trucks. Important variables in determining the GHG emissions are: whether the trucks are fueled by diesel or natural gas, if there are fuel efficiencies, and whether or not there is a transfer station involved. If there is a transfer station, the IWM Model will also ask for data related to the energy consumed at that station (diesel and electricity), as well as the transportation distances to the energy recover facility, landfill, material recovery facility and composting facility.

Cathy Cirko is the director general of the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), a council of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. E-mail Cathy at ccirko@cpia.ca


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