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An investigation into the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with the disposal of solid waste in the eThekwini Municipality.

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The amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted due to waste management in the cities of developing countries is predicted to rise considerably in the near future; however, these countries have a series of problems in accounting and reporting these gases. This study investigated GHG emissions from the municipal waste sector in South Africa. In particular, the eThekwini Municipality is researched in detail and current emissions as well as further projections have been calculated. This research has to be placed in the wider context where developing countries (including South Africa) do not have binding emission reduction targets, but many of them publish different greenhouse gas emissions data which have been accounted and reported in different ways. Results from the first stages of this research showed that for South Africa, inventories at national and municipal level are the most important tools in the process of accounting and reporting greenhouse gases from waste. However, discrepancies in the methodology used are a concern. This is a challenging issue for developing countries, especially African ones, since higher accuracy methods are more data intensive. Therefore, the development of local emission factors for the different waste management processes is important as it encourages a common, unified approach. In the accounting of GHG from waste at municipal level, emission factors, based on a life cycle approach, are used with increased frequency. However, these factors have been calculated for many developed countries of the Northern Hemisphere and are generally lacking for developing countries. The second part of this research showed how such factors have been developed for waste processes used in this country. For the collection and transport of municipal waste in South Africa, the average diesel consumption is around 5 dm3 (litres) per tonne of wet waste and the associated GHG emissions are about 15 kg CO2 equivalents (CO2 e). Depending on the type of landfill, the GHG emissions from the landfilling of waste have been calculated to range from -145 to 1 016 kg CO2 e per tonne of wet waste, when taking into account carbon storage, and from 441 to 2 532 kg CO2 e per tonne of wet waste, when carbon storage is left out. The highest emission factor per unit of wet waste is for landfill sites without landfill gas collection and these are the dominant waste disposal facilities in South Africa. The emission factors developed for the different recyclables in the country showed savings varying from -290 kg CO2 e (glass) to – 19 111 kg CO2 e (metals - Al) per tonne of recyclable. They also illustrated that there is variability, with energy intensive materials like metals having higher GHG savings in South Africa as compared to other countries. This study also showed that composting of garden waste is a net GHG emitter, releasing 172 and 186 kg CO2 e per tonne of wet garden waste for aerated dome composting and turned windrow composting, respectively. By using the emission factors developed, the GHG emissions from municipal waste in the eThekwini Municipality were calculated and showed that for the year 2012 net savings of -161 780 tonnes CO2 e were achieved. This is mainly due to the landfill gas to electricity clean development mechanism (CDM) projects and due to recycling in the municipality. In the absence of landfill gas (LFG) collection and utilisation systems, which is typical for the majority of South African landfills, important GHG emission from the anaerobic degradation of waste are recorded. In the near future (year 2014) the closure of one of the three local landfill sites and the re-directioning of the majority of waste to another landfill sites which does not have LFG collection and utilisation, will cause an increase of GHG emissions to 294 670 tonnes CO2 e. An increase in recycling and the introduction of anaerobic digestion and composting has the potential to reduce these emissions as shown for the year 2020. However, only the introduction of a LFG to electricity system will result in the highest possible overall GHG savings from waste management in the municipality. In the absence of the Clean Development Mechanism and the associated financial arrangements, these systems have to be financed locally and might present a financial challenge to the municipality. Therefore, the second intervention which will make a difference by lowering GHG emissions from waste management would be to increase recycling in general and in particular the recycling of paper and metals. Since there is no direct competition for carbon, in addition to recycling, anaerobic digestion can be introduced and this combination will achieve increased savings in the future. If anaerobic digestion is not possible, composting in addition to recycling will also lead to savings, albeit not as high as with anaerobic digestion. The results presented in this study show that life cycle based GHG emission factors for waste and their use can support a unified approach to accounting of GHG and better decision-making for municipalities in the local context. They can give valuable input for the planning and development of future waste management strategies and they can help optimise current municipal solid waste management.


Ph.D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2013.


Greenhouse gases--KwaZulu-Natal--eThekwini Metropolitan Area., Refuse and refuse disposal--Environmental aspects., Theses--Civil engineering.