Energy-from-Waste & Climate Change 

The earth’s climate is changing in response to the increasing amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. Roughly one-third of all GHG emissions are associated with various stages of materials management: extracting raw materials, making them into products and dealing with manufacturing waste and end-of-life disposal.

Energy-from-Waste (EfW) is widely recognized as a technology that can help mitigate climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for every ton of municipal solid waste processed at an EfW facility, the release of approximately one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the atmosphere is prevented due to the avoidance of methane generation at landfills, the offset of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel electrical production, and the recovery of metals. 

Landfills are the largest source of man-made methane. Methane has been found to be over 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The European Union has implemented a Landfill Directive to reduce the landfilling of biodegradable waste to reduce methane emissions and meet climate change goals. 

Facts:

  • Annually, Covanta's EfW facilities worldwide reduce greenhouse gases by 20 million tons, the equivalent of pulling approximately 4 million cars off the road for one year. 
  • In almost 30 years of operation, Covanta-operated EfW facilities have mitigated a more than 350 million tons of greenhouse gases – the equivalent of planting 8 billion trees. 
  • Because most EfW facilities receive MSW from local communities, carbon dioxide associated with the long-haul trucking of waste to distant landfills is also avoided. 
  • Our EfW facilities average emissions are dramatically below the established limits —usually operating at 60-90 percent or more below the required limit.
  • Covanta's EfW facilities recycle over 500,000 tons of metal annually, which avoids the new to mine for new metal - an extremely carbon intensive process. 
  • Under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism program, EfW is recognized as a source of greenhouse gas credits. Three of Covanta-operated EfW facilities in Florida and Hawaii are generating and selling these credits.

By following the waste hierarchy and pursuing a more circular economy, we can have a big impact. Leading countries in Europe recycle and compost two-thirds of their waste—or more—and recover energy from what’s left over. Applied globally, we could save 3.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases as CO2 each year. That’s equivalent to installing two million one megawatt wind turbines or doubling nuclear power plant capacity. Here in the United States, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to closing more than 60 large coal-fired power plants.