Curbside Collection Improves Organic Waste Composting, Reduces Methane Emissions; Study Shows

A study by researchers from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, on New South Wales’s adopted policies on food and garden waste collection, shows curbside collection of organic waste, significantly reduces methane emissions. The adoption of the Paris Agreement, by the Council of Parties, signaled a global commitment to reduce emissions and cut down global warming by 1.5°c.

Methane traps heat in the atmosphere around 30 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. However, it remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter amount of time, meaning, efforts to reduce methane emissions have a more immediate impact on reducing global warming.

The local governments of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, adopted over the years between 2009 and 2015, a policy where households received a red bin for general waste, a yellow bin for recycling, and a green been for organic waste to enhance the collection of food and garden waste for recycling and compost.

The study by Becca Taylor, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, and Lihini de Silva, Monash Business School, involved the analysis of data on household waste from annual New South Wales government waste and resource recovery reports from 2008 to 2015.

“We found the programs were very successful in getting organic waste out of landfills. On average households redirected 4.2 kilograms of waste to composting, which represents 25% of the waste that previously went to landfills,” Tailor stated. Based on the data, Taylor and de Silva estimated that moving a ton of organic waste from landfill to compost would result in 6% to 26% reductions in methane emissions. However, the results could vary from other locations because calculations are based on the specific compost and landfill technologies that are used.

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Enhancement of waste collection facilities is a necessary undertaking by the municipal governments in the global south, countries which are significantly affected by poor waste management, with mountains of landfills dotting the landscapes, such as the Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi East, Kenya.

The introduction of a similar policy, color-coded bins, would greatly improve the collection system. Information campaigns and civil education on the types of waste allowed in the bins will be necessary for effective implementation.

Research shows that landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions, after fossil fuels and livestock. Therefore, composting organic waste instead of sending it to landfills provides an important and low-cost way to reduce methane emissions, not to mention the many important uses of compost in farming and energy production.

To echo Taylor’s sentiment, these compost collection programs facilitate methane emission reductions without reducing the amount of waste. This underscores that recycling is important, but generating less waste in the first place would result in even greater emission reductions. Both measures are important elements of sustainable practices.

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