Our Vision for Sustainable Waste Management
To continue to reduce the impacts of solid waste management, reduce GHG emissions and recover more materials for the circular economy
Waste always has an environmental impact. However, how we manage waste can significantly reduce those impacts. At Covanta, we believe the materials discarded every day should be utilized to their fullest potential and that waste to energy (WTE) is an important part of an overall sustainable waste management approach. WTE is recognized in the European Union and U.S. EPA waste management hierarchies as preferable to landfilling for those materials remaining after waste reduction, reuse and recycling efforts are exhausted. For wastes that remain after recycling, WTE facilities recover energy in an environmentally sound manner. In addition, WTE facilities recycle metals, reduce the need for fossil-based energy, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to landfilling. According to the U.S. EPA life-cycle emission analysis, WTE facilities reduce the amount of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) in the atmosphere by approximately one ton for every ton of municipal solid waste (MSW) combusted.
We can do more. Our materials management goals are centered around recovering more value from waste resources, reducing GHG emissions and recovering more materials to put back into the economy by:
- Recovering more energy at existing WTE facilities;
- Building new best-in-class WTE capacity with low emission profiles;
- Investing in existing WTE facilities to preserve their capacity for the long run;
- Continuing to expand recycling services to our commercial or industrial clients; and
- Continuing to mine ash for valuable resources, such as metals and aggregates.
To set a science-based target and implementation plan by 2022 to help prevent the most significant impacts of global climate change
As part of our vision for protecting tomorrow, we are developing a science-based target in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre industrial temperatures.
To minimize the most severe impacts of climate change, scientists have concluded that we need to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C. This will both require and produce transformative change across all sectors of the economy, including waste and materials management. Fully implementing the waste management hierarchy globally will be a major step forward. Achieving the same recycling and energy recovery rates of leaders in Europe will reduce GHG emissions by one billion metric tons of carbon equivalents per year by 2050.
One key component will be drastically reducing, if not eliminating, landfilling of biodegradable wastes. Landfilling is the third-largest source of anthropogenic methane globally, a potent GHG more than 80 times as strong as CO2 as a GHG over 20 years, a period increasingly seen as relevant to mitigating global climate change. Furthermore, new measurement data show landfills to be a greater emitter than previously thought. While waste reduction, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) will all play vital roles, we must realistically plan for the wastes remaining. This is where WTE, augmented with novel materials management technologies, will continue to play a key role.
Therefore, it’s critically important we do not remain complacent with present-day WTE technology. Just as landfilling, recycling, AD and composting will need to change, WTE will need to continue to improve and adapt to reduce its own GHG intensity and enable the recovery of more materials. Furthermore, as we reduce those emissions associated with climate change, we must also work to reduce other environmental impacts, particularly in communities that have historically borne disproportionate environmental burdens associated with all forms of waste management.
Our work today already puts us in a leadership position in many of these areas. We know, however, that there are challenges requiring even greater innovation. That’s why we continue to evaluate evolving technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration, that may help further reduce the carbon footprint of energy recovery while minimizing other environmental impacts.