Emissions, Ecology, and the Economy: U.S. and European Perspectives on Waste Management
In Germany, the greening of waste management has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cut waste management costs and has allowed cities to save energy. These benefits have been achieved by treating, sorting and recycling municipal waste, making landfills obsolete. Christian Egenhofer presented the key policies proposal set forth in the EU Climate and Energy Package’s so-called “20-20-20” plan, which is regarded as the road map for the reduction of emissions. Given the German experience, Jochen Flasbarth contended that a connection must be made between climate change and waste management, and that rethinking waste management will be critical for other countries to achieve similar reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Flasbarth, the 2005 German landfill ban, was the biggest contribution to the EU’s climate change policy in the waste management sector. The ban, which prohibits dumping of all untreated household and municipal waste, has paved the way for achieving the larger goal of eliminating the need to landfill completely. These steps will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that come from the carbon dioxide and methane released from landfills. The German strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions has been influential in setting a standard for all EU member states on such practices, Flasbarth said.
Lori Scozzafava discussed the implications of adopting the German system in the United States. While emissions from waste are only a fraction of the greenhouse gasses produced by utilities and transportation, Scozzafava agreed that waste management is nevertheless an important part of any policy to reduce emissions. In the United States, some local governments have begun to focus on changing their waste management policies: moving from landfilling to landfill conversion treatments, recycling and waste reduction. Since there is no federal regulatory policy to guide states, policy change is often the result of the initiatives by various industries or civic groups with an interest in developing technologies and regulations to reduce and convert solid waste.
Betsy Smidinger noted that while no landfill ban exists here, various industries have begun to reclaim and reuse their own products in landfills. Rather than focus solely on landfills, the EPA has supported a sustainable-materials approach, including supporting producers that use biodegradable packaging. With 54 percent of American waste processed in landfills in 2009, Smidinger argued that policy makers in the US have not yet accepted that waste contributes to climate change.
Karen Stiles offered an industry perspective, and described how Waste Management has initiated a two-sided approach, which focuses not only on improving techniques but also on convincing consumers to adjust their habits of consumption and disposal. Waste Management has worked on extracting value from waste materials, for example by developing technologies to convert waste into energy. Stiles praised the participation of third-party organizations and civic groups in encouraging states to set goals for greater energy efficiency.
This event is part of the "Transatlantic Climate Bridge", an initiative launched by the German government in 2008 to foster transatlantic cooperation and partnerships between Germany and the U.S. in the climate and energy area at the local, state and federal level
Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History ProjectWoodrow Wilson Center
Centre for European Policy (Brussels)
President, Federal Environment Agency (Germany)