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Delving into the environmental consequences of waste-to-energy solutions on the waste management system

Ioan-Robert Istrate, Diego Iribarren, José-Luis Gálvez-Martos, Javier Dufour (2020): Review of life-cycle environmental consequences of waste-to-energy solutions on the municipal solid waste management system, In Resources, Conservation & Recycling 157: 104778. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.104778

Nowadays, the recovery of energy from municipal solid waste (MSW) is considerably increasing as a result of the increased generation of MSW and the associated environmental concerns. The most popular waste-to-energy (WtE) solutions include electricity production by MSW incineration, biomethane production by anaerobic digestion, and electricity production from the biogas captured in controlled landfills. All these solutions entail a broad range of environmental consequences that are not limited to the impacts generated by the life cycle of the process itself. MSW management encompasses a complex system of interconnected processes. The implementation of WtE solutions has a cascade effect on the other processes within the MSW management system. Hence, the evaluation of the environmental consequences of introducing WtE solutions requires not only a life-cycle perspective, but also an approach to the entire MSW management system.

In this review authored by the Systems Analysis Unit of IMDEA Energy, this double perspective was adopted in order to identify WtE solutions and their environmental consequences. The results reveal that the implementation of WtE strategies generally has large consequences on the environmental performance of the MSW management system. These consequences can be either positive or negative, and of different magnitude depending on the specific features of the geographical context where the system operates. A key aspect determining the environmental benefits of WtE strategies is the energy system. For instance, electricity production by MSW incineration will provide less environmental benefits in a highly-renewable energy system. Thus, generalisations are not recommendable, but WtE strategies should be assessed considering the specific features of the context for implementation.

More information: Diego Iribarren, Senior Researcher, System Analysis Unit diego.iribarren@imdea.org

Event Date: 
Thursday, April 2, 2020