Environmental Impacts of Waste Management

Waste is defined as unwanted material, substances or by-products. Global waste production is increasing with the growing population, the improvement of living standards and the globalisation of consumer society. The expansion of waste volume is also strongly correlated with urbanisation and urban lifestyles.

The waste framework is a high impact intensity framework encompassing all types of non-radioactive waste and usually classified into three categories: hazardous or toxic, non-hazardous and inert. The nuclear, radioactive waste issue is out of the present scope and is integrated into the electricity framework.

Each type of waste is basically collected, potentially sorted then treated. Each treatment type implies different environmental impacts and related regulations. A wide range of waste treatment solutions exist. Options such as reuse, recycling, and energy recovery generally have positive impacts (e.g. recycled materials, saved energy). While the all too common solution of unregulated landfilling has severe negative impacts, such as massive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land consumption, pollution of air, groundwater, aquifers or soil.

How the NEC measures impacts of waste

In brief, the methodology used to calculate the environmental impacts of waste is a norm-based, qualitative approach per geography and per treatment category for each waste type. For hazardous and non-hazardous waste, because standards in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are usually higher, with more stringent control systems, activities occurring in OECD countries are used as a proxy for higher treatment performances. A lower default NEC is thus given to non-OECD countries, as environmental regulations regarding landfills and post-combustion fumes are usually less strict.

The following chart shows the NEC score of the main waste treatment solutions for non-hazardous waste.

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