Waste management and a circular economy

Waste and climate change

Biogas plant

Pollution from waste which is not disposed of in an environmentally sound manner is a major contributor to global climate change. Large quantities of harmful methane gas are released from open landfill sites and illegal dumps. When waste is simply burnt instead of being professionally incinerated, it produces soot, which is not only harmful for the climate but also very damaging to health. According to estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), landfill sites and sewage plants are responsible for around three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

However, proper waste management and a circular economy have the potential to contribute much more than that to climate action: estimates indicate that better waste management will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by between 10 and 15 per cent. These calculations include, for instance, the possibility of increasing the share of energy generated from waste and reducing the energy generated by burning fossil fuels. Large energy savings could also be made and the consumption of raw materials reduced if industry were to step up the use of recycled materials. The calculations also include improvements in transporting waste.

The parties signatory to the Paris climate agreement of December 2015 have drawn up Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in which they also set out their goals and measures with regard to waste management and a circular economy.

German activities

Through its development cooperation Germany supports the efforts of its partner countries to make their waste management systems more climate compatible. It makes available instruments for calculating greenhouse gas emissions in the waste sector and advises countries on restructuring their waste management systems. Partner countries also receive support for developing their systems for recycling reusable materials and processing biodegradable waste. Germany has funding instruments that it uses to support the construction of landfills with control systems for capturing harmful landfill gas.

In the field of energy generation, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) supports the introduction of appropriate "waste-to-energy" technologies. In addition, it advises partner countries on environmental and safety standards, and also on the required institutional and financial framework. The areas covered include using landfill gas for energy purposes, building biogas plants and processing waste so it can be used as an alternative fuel in cement works and waste incinerators.

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