The Path to Drawdown: Waste to Energy
Waste-to-energy is the burning of waste and conversion to electricity and usable heat in waste-to-energy plants. It reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing waste that ends up in landfills where it generates methane and replacing the use of coal- or gas-fired power plants and oil combustion. Its emissions saving potential is even greater if waste-to-energy plants are powered by renewable energy or low-emission energy sources.
While its GHG emissions are lower than fossil fuel combustion of methane-generating landfills, waste-to-energy processes carry with them the health and environmental risks associated with air pollution. Given that, it’s at best a transition solution - it can help us move away from fossil fuels in the near-term, but it should not be part of a clean energy future. Even when incineration facilities are cutting edge and equipped with pollution-reducing technologies, they’re not truly clean and toxin-free.
Waste-to-energy has been adopted in Europe, the United States, and Japan, and adoption is growing fast in China. Because of high capital entry cost, adoption will probably be limited to industrialized countries that can install high-cost pollution control technologies.
Project Drawdown envisions a mild increase in waste-to-energy in the path to a decarbonized future:
- <::marker> In 2020, waste-to-energy generated 142 TWh of electricity, or 0.54% of global electricity generation
- <::marker> In an ideal scenario in which other, cleaner waste management solutions are more widely adopted, waste-to-energy will have diminished in importance. By 2050 it will account for 0.3% of total global electricity generation, with 210 TWH of electricity generated. It will help avoid 3.0 gigatons of CO2e emissions.
- <::marker> In a less ideal future, waste-to-energy adoption will increase, accounting for 1.1% of total electricity generation in 2050, or 493 TWh of electricity