By Ekemini Simon
Environmental experts and waste management advocates have highlighted how zero-waste practice can offer real solutions to climate change.
At a webinar organized by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and other member organizations, with the theme, Embracing Zero Waste: A Path to Addressing Climate, the experts noted that waste is a key contributor to climate change.
Director of Global Climate Program of GAIA, Mariel Vilella in her presentation noted that 70 percent of global greenhouse emissions come from product life cycles of waste extracted, transported and disposed into the environment.
Mariel said waste accounts for 3-5 percent global emissions even as an incinerator which treats waste produces 1.3 times as much carbon dioxide than a coal plant seen as a dangerous polluter.
She explained that the waste sector is the third largest source of anthropogenic methane, which has 82 times more warming power than carbon dioxide, making it an extremely dangerous greenhouse gas and a superior pollutant.
According to her, Plastic production and pollution also results in greenhouse gas emissions at each stage of the lifecycle—from its birth as fossil fuels through refining and manufacture to disposal emissions at the end of life, adding that waste-to-energy incinerators are also super polluters.
Highlighting the key takeaways from a Zero Waste to Zero Emissions modeling study of 8 cities conducted by GAIA in 2022, she stated that waste composting, source reduction and energy recovery are zero waste strategies that can serve as the solution to climate change through its effect in reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
While describing composting as a climate game changer, she noted ” The most readily implementable treatment option for organic waste is composting. Source-separated collection and treatment of organics can reduce methane emissions from landfills. These reductions reach 62% even with only moderate ambition.
” With even greater ambition, source separation of all organic discards, coupled with composting, bio-stabilization, and biologically active cover for landfills and dumps can reduce solid waste methane emissions by as much as 95% by 2030.
” Methane reduction potential of organic waste management Composting alone, an age-old practice utilized around the world, could reduce solid waste methane emissions by 78% by 2030.
Commenting on source reduction of waste, Vilella noted that it is the best way to reduce GHG emissions, especially for food and plastic, even better than recycling.
She said source reduction is especially important for plastic, most of which is not recyclable and whose production is doubling every 20 years.
While explaining that Energy recovery is generally not an effective mitigation strategy, Vilella noted ” Landfill gas capture is unreliable, allowing large quantities of fugitive methane emissions to escape.
“Incineration is a major source of GHG emissions. Each tonne of plastic burned results in the release of 1.43 tonnes of carbon dioxide, even after energy recovery. Some anaerobic digestion can be combined with composting to avoid landfill methane emissions.
She added that besides the environmental gains of less air pollution and reduced flooding, the zero waste strategy also has social, economic and institutional benefits that ensure better public health, poverty reduction, job creation and more public inclusion and participation.
On his part, the Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams stated that it was time the deceit churned out in the current waste management systems in Nigeria among other countries of global south are reviewed and replaced with policies that are binding and practicable.
He insisted that the global south needs more enlightenment on the dangers of plastic waste and its effects on the planet and not to monetize it through tax relief.
Williams who called for the total ban on single use plastic said failure to take immediate action will lead to a catastrophe in the near future.
On his part, the Executive Director of Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev), Leslie Adogame stated that there is a huge gap in policies related to waste management and climate change.
He further added that GAIA is spread across Nigeria to bridge the gap between zero waste and climate change, and to develop ideas, policies and actions that will promote zero waste as a key climate action.
Earlier, the programs Manager of Era/FoEN, Maimoni Ubrei-Joe highlighted the key achievements of GAIA and ERA in promoting zero waste, including the creation of Zero Waste Ambassador, to promote zero waste policies at the local level.