people trawl through landfill

Managing Methane in the Waste Sector

Waste Sector: Methane Emissions Flying under the Radar

What happens to your household waste after disposal? Food waste and other organic household materials like paper, wood, yard waste, and sewage sludge often wind up in landfills, where they decompose to produce landfill gas (LFG), comprising primarily methane and carbon dioxide. Much of the world’s attention on curbing methane emissions has focused on the oil and gas sector. However, in 2020, the waste sector—municipal solid waste and wastewater—accounted for almost 20 percent of all human-related methane emissions—the third largest source globally, after enteric fermentation, and oil and gas. The waste sector has a clear and urgent need for decarbonization strategies that swiftly reduce emissions.

 Graph data adapted from Global Methane Initiative

Why Should We Care?

Methane is a short-lived climate pollutant with 84 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale. And while methane accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is responsible for about half of the net increase in global temperature since pre-industrial era. This means that mitigating relatively small amounts of methane can drive significant progress toward achieving a 1.5oC future. In 2020, global human-caused methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills alone had the same warming impact as approximately 4 billion metric tons of CO2 on a 20-year time horizon. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions from about 900 million passenger vehicles. At the same time, a growing global population with higher purchasing power is driving increased consumption and waste generation. And solid waste disposal in the fastest growing populations—sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa—are often unmanaged dumps, increasing public health risks and methane emissions. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by the end of this decade—in line with limiting global warming to 1.5oC by mid-century—will require clear plans and policies to decarbonize the waste sector and drastically reduce methane emissions. Source reduction, organics diversion, LFG capture, and more sustainable production and consumption are critical to methane abatement in the waste sector.

picture of recycle. landfill, compost bins

Enabling Deep Emission Cuts: Our Strategy for Mitigating Methane Emissions in the Waste Sector

RMI, Carbon Mapper, and IG3IS are working together to develop a strategy for rapidly deploying a global monitoring framework to support landfill owners and operators in reducing emissions. Our strategy for tackling emissions in the solid waste sector includes:

  • Conducting a methane assessment study to understand the best practices for reducing methane and examine the abatement potential of several mitigation strategies. This study will be informed by airborne campaigns led by Carbon Mapper that assess the extent of superemitter activity across landfills in the United States and select facilities globally.
  • Developing a roadmap for rapidly deploying a global monitoring and analytics framework, including a systematic effort to devise new incentives, practices, and policies for maximizing methane abatement.

Our approach will ensure that we identify the biggest levers for methane reduction, develop data products that will inform actionable emissions cuts, share insights with key industry stakeholders, and develop an action plan to scale solutions globally.

computer graphic of data analytics

About Our Partnership

Carbon Mapper is a non-profit entity leading a public-private partnership to deploy a global satellite monitoring system offering precise, sustained and transparent methane and carbon dioxide point source emission mitigation guidance. Carbon Mapper has convened a broad unique coalition of private and public sector actors with the combined expertise and resources to deploy a science-driven, sustained, and operational decision support service for maximum impact. Our partners are Planet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the State of California, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, RMI, and our philanthropic sponsors. For more information, please visit carbonmapper.org.

IG3IS is an UN international initiative to establish and promote best-practices, peer-reviewed scientific methods that combine atmospheric concentration and emission inventory data in a numerical weather prediction framework to produce more accurate and consistent emissions estimates at scales needed to inform emission reduction policies and manage actions. IG3IS promotes the deployment and analysis of measurements in key GHG source regions and relies on a multi-tiered observing strategy, involving satellite, aircraft, and surface-based sensors with the accuracy, consistency and location needed to help nations, cities, and industries quantify and manage their GHG emissions at scales needed to target emission reduction opportunities and track progress toward their goals. For more information, please visit https://ig3is.wmo.int/en/welcome.

RMI is an independent nonprofit founded in 1982 that transforms global energy systems through market-driven solutions to align with a 1.5°C future and secure a clean, prosperous zero-carbon future for all. We work in the world’s most critical geographies and engage businesses, policymakers, communities, and NGOs to identify and scale energy system interventions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% by 2030. RMI has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Oakland, California; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing. For collaboration opportunities or any other inquiries regarding this project, please reach out to us at waste@rmi.org. To learn more about RMI’s Climate Intelligence program, visit our website.