Carbon-Making the right choice for waste management in developing countries

Due to initiatives such as the clean development mechanism (CDM), reducing greenhouse gas emissions for a developing country can offer an important route to attracting investment in a variety of qualifying project areas, including waste management. To date CDM projects have been largely confined to schemes that control emission from landfill, but projects that avoid landfilling are beginning to be submitted. In considering the waste options which might be suitable for developing countries certain ones, such as energy from waste, have been discounted for a range of reasons related primarily to the lack of technical and other support services required for these more sophisticated process trains. The paper focuses on six options: the base case of open dumping; three options for landfill (passive venting, gas capture with flaring, and gas capture with energy production), composting and anaerobic digestion with electricity production and composting of the digestate. A range of assumptions were necessary for making the comparisons based on the effective carbon emissions, and these assumptions will change from project to project. The highest impact in terms of carbon emissions was from using a sanitary landfill without either gas flaring or electricity production; this was worse than the baseline case using open dumpsites. Landfills with either flaring or energy production from the collected gas both produced similar positive carbon emissions, but these were substantially lower than both open dumping and sanitary landfill without flaring or energy production. Composting or anaerobic digestion with energy production and composting of the digestate were the two best options with composting being neutral in terms of carbon emissions and anaerobic digestion being carbon negative. These generic conclusions were tested for sensitivity by modifying the input waste composition and were found to be robust, suggesting that subject to local study to confirm assumptions made, the opportunity for developing CDM projects to attract investment to improved waste management infrastructure is significant. Kyoto credits in excess of 1 tCO2e/t of waste could be realised.

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