Waste buried at landfill decomposes and emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas: over a 20-year period, it is estimated that methane has a global warming potential 80 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2). After leaks from the gas industry and methane from farming (particularly rice fields and cattle farming), decomposing waste is a major source of worldwide methane emissions.
In developed markets such as France and the UK, Veolia has the technical wherewithal to capture as much as 85% of methane. This rate of capture is the maximum possible when you consider that waste cells already oxidize 10% of methane (CH4) into CO2. The European Union has rolled out incentive mechanisms to encourage capture of methane from waste decomposition and sale of biogas in the form of price incentives for the purchase of the electricity generated. It has also introduced regulations to discourage organic waste in landfill as it decomposes and releases methane. Other countries have introduced their own legislation, with some Latin American countries benefiting from Kyoto Protocol carbon credits via the Clean Development Mechanism. This finances the capital and operating costs associated with capturing and converting biogas.
Given the state of current techniques and the sums that municipalities are prepared to commit to waste management, some Veolia-operated sites, predominantly in Latin America and Asia, are not yet fitted with methane capture technologies. We have set ourselves the target of achieving an average global capture rate of above 60% by 2020.
Whenever possible, we develop circular economy solutions to cut the tonnage destined for landfill.