Study: Mixed waste sorting more cost-effective than carbon capture


Carbon capture

Sorting mixed waste before incineration is a more cost-effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than Carbon Capture and Storage, a study by Zero Waste Europe found.

The study by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) and Equanimator is titled “Materials or Gases? How to Capture Carbon”. It compares how leftover mixed waste sorting and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can help municipalities and incineration operators minimise the “climate burden” of incinerators.

The study highlighted that while incineration with CCS may achieve higher levels of reduction, the associated costs are “significantly higher” and described them as “somewhat unaffordable”.

It found that leftover mixed waste sorting offers a “rapid and cost-effective approach” to achieving a significant reduction in greenhouse gases from incineration. The study also found that leftover mixed waste sorting has more affordable and operationally flexible infrastructure.

Following the study, ZWE recommended the EU take a “step-by-step approach”, promptly and extensively use leftover mixed waste sorting and implement CCS only in facilities where it is expected to be necessary in the future.

Policymakers and waste managers must prioritise a holistic perspective.

Commenting on the study, Dominic Hogg, Director of Equanimator, said: “The findings of this study reveal that the sorting system stands out as the most cost-effective method for achieving system-wide reductions in CO2 emissions.

“Conversely, CCS emerged as the least cost-effective means. The synergy of both approaches, however, demonstrates the potential for the greatest overall reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, cutting the average cost of reduction by approximately half compared to relying on CCS alone.

“Policymakers and waste managers must prioritise a holistic perspective, ensuring that a narrow focus on incineration emissions does not impede implementation of sorting systems, particularly at operational facilities in the future.”

Twenty-three environmental non-governmental organisations, including ZWE, have previously signed a position paper arguing against the mandatory implementation of CCS in waste incinerators, claiming that increasing recycling rates, overcapacity of incinerators, and mixed waste sorting will be more effective.

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