The Carbon Challenge - part1 : The role of waste in global warming.

20 Dec 2021
It is clear that global warming must be stopped. Europe, for example, has expressed a great ambition to
to become carbon neutral by 2050. In this forst of two blogs our Innovation Manager Tom Croymans clarifies iwhat climate challenge entails and goes deeper into the role of waste.
During spring of 2022, we will bring together experts in the fields of waste management, circular economy and carbon capture & storage to provide you with even better information under the form of an event.

What's your background, Tom, and what is it you love about working in this industry? 

When I obtained my master's degree in Chemistry, I wanted to extend my acedemic career via a PhD. In the following 4 years I completed a PhD in nuclear technology at the industrial engineering department. During his PhD tom obtained a postgraduate degree in business administration. After his PhD he started working as an Innovation Manager at Keppel Seghers in June 2018..
In 2021 I was elected as Chairman of the Carbon Capture Utilization & Storage working group of ESWET, the industry association of European Suppliers of Waste to Energy Technology. The ambition to work on environmental themes such as waste and energy from a technology is a stronge motivator for me. That's why I'm continuously looking for the right mix between technological innovation and profitability in the field of ecology.

Global warming cannot be ignored. How do you look at this?

One of the most important challenges in the context of global warming is drastically reducing CO2 emissions. The European Union has set itself the ambitious target of reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and even becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
This is only possible by reducing CO2 emissions as well as capturing and storing the emitted CO2, the so-called 'carbon capture & storage' process.

We are active within Waste-to-Energy. What is the role of waste in global warming?

Waste management plays a crucial role. The growing world population and rising living standards mean first of all that the production of goods continues to increase. When these goods come to an end-of-life stage, the eventually become waste. For example, the World Bank predicts that the global amount of household waste will increase by 70% between now and 2050 to 3.4 billion tons per year in a “business as usual” scenario. An insane number that only highlights the impact of waste on the climate problem!


Secondly, CO2 is produced both during the manufacturing of products as well as in their waste treatment.
The way this waste is treated has a crucial impact on the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gassses produced. The environment will be burdened more severely if waste is not optimally managed according to the waste hierarchy. It will also have a more negative impact on global warming.


What does the 'waste hierarchy' mean? 

The so-called waste hierarchy determines the preferential order of waste treatment. The best waste strategy is to avoid the use of material. Next the reuse and recycling of material is recommended if this isn't possible. Finally, if these options are not possible, a non-recyclable material or waste remains. The best strategy is to incinerate this waste for energy and material recovery. The most undesirable option is to landfill the waste.

This clarifies a third reason why waste management is crucial for global warming. Today, 70% of the waste worldwide is still landfilled, whether or not in landfills or in nature. A siginificant amount of methane gas is produced in these landfills, which often ends up directly in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the impact of this methane gas on climate change is many times greater than CO2. In addition, when waste is dumped, material recovery can no longer take place. To conclude, dumping waste has a much larger carbon footprint and removes the material from the circular economy.

Good waste management therefore has a huge impact on the environment. Consequently, taking the right actions at the right time can have a beneficial impact on global warming. The large amounts of untreated waste therefore offer an enormous potential for innovative Waste-to-Energy and recycling technologies.

What does this opportunity consist of?

Mainly non-recyclable household waste is incinerated in a Waste-to-Energy process. The released heat is collected in a boiler where it is used for steam production, which in turn is used as an energy source. For example, to generate electricity using a turbine, in chemical processes or within heat networks.
In addition, metals are recovered from the bottom ashes. The non-combustible fraction that remains after incineration is also used, for example, in road construction applications.

Excited to know more? 

Soon we will share the second part of our Carbon Challenge series in which you will discover more about the solution that “Carbon capture & storage” can offer to combat global warming and the possible role of Waste-to-Energy.