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Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Human Health Trade-Offs of Organic Waste Management Strategies.

  • Author(s): Nordahl, Sarah L
  • Devkota, Jay P
  • Amirebrahimi, Jahon
  • Smith, Sarah Josephine
  • Breunig, Hanna M
  • Preble, Chelsea V
  • Satchwell, Andrew J
  • Jin, Ling
  • Brown, Nancy J
  • Kirchstetter, Thomas W
  • Scown, Corinne D
  • et al.
Abstract

Waste-to-energy systems can play an important role in diverting organic waste from landfills. However, real-world waste management can differ from idealized practices, and emissions driven by microbial communities and complex chemical processes are poorly understood. This study presents a comprehensive life-cycle assessment, using reported and measured data, of competing management alternatives for organic municipal solid waste including landfilling, composting, dry anaerobic digestion (AD) for the production of renewable natural gas (RNG), and dry AD with electricity generation. Landfilling is the most greenhouse gas (GHG)-intensive option, emitting nearly 400 kg CO2e per tonne of organic waste. Composting raw organics resulted in the lowest GHG emissions, at -41 kg CO2e per tonne of waste, while upgrading biogas to RNG after dry AD resulted in -36 to -2 kg CO2e per tonne. Monetizing the results based on social costs of carbon and other air pollutant emissions highlights the importance of ground-level NH3 emissions from composting nitrogen-rich organic waste or post-AD solids. However, better characterization of material-specific NH3 emissions from landfills and land-application of digestate is essential to fully understand the trade-offs between alternatives.

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