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First-of-its-kind study reveals promising new method for tackling pollution: ‘We need to act immediately’

“The technologies are there, and it is a matter [of] whether relevant stakeholders will be aware of the seriousness of this issue.”

"The technologies are there, and it is a matter [of] whether relevant stakeholders will be aware of the seriousness of this issue."

Photo Credit: iStock

Landfills are major contributors to the overheating of our planet, releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. However, a new study suggests that not only can landfills be managed to significantly reduce planet-overheating pollution, but the technology also already exists to do so.

The study, published in the journal Science, is “the first global analysis of how reduced methane emissions through better management of municipal solid waste could contribute to climate goals,” according to Anthropocene Magazine. 

“We found that with the readily existing waste-handling technologies, such as retrofitting landfills, digesting organic waste, and composting organic waste, we can curb global solid waste emissions to net-zero warming by 2050,” Kok Sin Woon, a sustainability researcher at Xiamen University Malaysia and one of the study’s authors, told Anthropocene. “However, we need to act immediately, as the results of action need time to manifest.”

The study broke down the methods to reduce the planet-overheating pollution from municipal solid waste into four parts. 

  1. Breaking trash down in “anaerobic digesters” and then using the biomethane created from the process (reducing emissions by 70%).

  2. Halving waste generation (reducing emissions by 63%).

  3. Composting organic waste (reducing emissions by 57%).

  4. Retrofitting landfills with systems that can capture methane (reducing emissions by 27%).

By taking all four of those steps (or even combining a few) via a combination of governmental regulation, economic incentives, and communications tools, the study proposed that we could have a global waste management system that has a negative cumulative climate impact, meaning that it removes more heat-trapping gases than it creates, according to Anthropocene’s summary.

However, without taking any of these steps, global waste management is likely to be responsible for the equivalent of about 35.3 to 38.6 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions between 2020 and 2050, the study said, as summarized by Anthropocene.

“The technologies are there, and it is a matter [of] whether relevant stakeholders will be aware of the seriousness of this issue and take action by implementing the appropriate technologies for waste treatment,” Woon told Anthropocene.

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