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Waste Management



What initiatives, policies and technologies can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste and waste management?
Submit proposals:
Rules: All entrants must agree to the Contest Rules. and Terms of Use.
Deadline: Monday, May 23, 2016 at 19:00:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes: See below.


The challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from waste and waste management is tremendous.

We encourage participants to take a systematic approach to the issue and consider waste reduction and management at all scales.

To begin we ask:

(1) What is creating waste?

(2) How can we generate less waste?

(3) What do we do with the waste that is created?

(4) How can we create materials that, instead of having an end-life, can move through different systems?

Waste reduction and management can occur at all levels of civic life:

At every level, we ask: 

What follows is a selection of key issues at various points of leverage and scale. These issues do not define the scope of the contest, but are intended to serve as catalyst for innovation. We welcome proposals that desire to tackle other issues in the waste and waste management arenas as long as the mitigation of greenhouse gases is at the forefront.


Key Issues

Selected Issues & Initiatives:



Waste at the household level can include everyday trash such as used packaging of household items, leftover food that is no longer being consumed, or even human waste resulting from sanitation practices. It is often managed through several commons methods such as regular garbage collection, recycling, and disposal through sewage systems. However, there is often less household waste in developing countries than in developed countries (Bobeck, 2010). Are there tools and/or technologies that can be deployed to lessen the impact households have on waste generation?

Municipal / State / National:

Presently, it is estimated that approximately 34% of all municipal solid waste is either recycled or leveraged for energy recovery; the remaining majority enters landfill (IPCC, 2014). Hence, there is a tremendous opportunity to promote diversion of waste from landfills at the municipal level with guidance on standards and recommended approaches/strategies at the national level. 

Some strategies at the municipal level include post-consumer recycling to avoid waste generation and reduce emissions from the production process, post-consumer management of fluorinated gases (reduces fluorinated gases), and wastewater and sludge treatment to reduce methane (CH4) emissions. We welcome proposals that address waste management and its GHG emissions by implementing new strategies or technologies.

On a national level, there is significant opportunity for countries to develop their own strategies that reduce emissions associated with waste and its management. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has outlined the framework and rationale behind national-level strategies in their guidelines.


Since the United Nations (UN) climate talks (COP-21) in Paris, 188 countries have formally submitted climate plans to the UN. For example, China has proposed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, while the United States is targeting 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. However, other countries have offered no specific emissions cuts (Climate Change News, 2016).

Waste management can be a challenging topic in international climate negotiations because practices differ considerably from country to country. The US primarily uses closely-monitored landfills; Europe and Japan predominately use incineration, while developing countries often rely on open landfills. How can we motive countries to consider waste and waste management in national planning while working in concert with other countries for a comprehensive and global strategy?

Some potential strategies to improve landfill management include landfilling with landfill gas recovery to reduce methane emissions as well as landfill aeration to inhibit methane production. This contest seeks proposals that address any aspect of waste management including reducing emissions through better waste water/landfill/incineration practices.

Some potential strategies to address landfills are processes that reduce GHG generation compared to landfilling. These processes can include thermal processes such as incineration and industrial co-combustion as well as Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) with landfilling of residuals, and anaerobic digestion. We welcome proposals addresses waste management by improving landfill management to reduce GHG emissions at any scale.

Key Sectors:

Landfill Management:

Landfills generate methane, a very powerful GHG, with twelve times more warming effect than carbon dioxide (CO2) over its lifetime. The GHG footprint of incineration depends on whether the process is simple incineration, which only emits carbon dioxide, or part of a waste to energy system. The latter also emits CO2, but the energy produced reduces the overall demand for energy, most of which is produced by burning fossil fuels, which also emit CO2.

There are a wide range of landfill management practices in place, with significant differences in the developed and developing countries. As many developing countries lag behind in waste management techniques, most cities rely on dumping in open landfills, and releasing untreated sewage into waterways. While the average per capita waste generation remains below that of developed countries, rapid rural to urban migration and changing consumption patterns are causing rapid growth in waste production in developing countries. In addition to methane emissions, developing countries are faced with serious public health impacts resulting from the lack of sustainable waste management. This is a pressing problem at the municipal level that often requires state regulation and national policy.

Electronic Waste (e-waste:)

Electronics have become a fully engrained aspect of the modern world. While these devices have enhanced living, there is a tremendous amount of waste associated with these products. Currently, 41 million metric tonnes of e-waste is created throughout the world annually (UNEP, 2015).  At present, electronic waste is often exported to places that have few, if any, resources to deal with them. This is externalizing the issue, or rather, exporting it to a different geographic location. E-waste is often easily externalized simply due to the lack of consistent regulations across borders. What initiatives can be implemented to standardized electronic waste?

This contest seeks proposals that address any aspect of waste management including management of electronic waste to mitigate GHG emissions either through transport or disposal.

Food Loss and Waste;

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals also highlight the role the chemicals and food have in waste/waste management. In particular, we would like to highlight goals 12.3 – 12.5:


Target 12.3 is projected to positively benefit the climate as well as our planet’s water, land, and energy resources.  Furthermore, a new initiative, Champions 12.3, announced before the UN General Assembly in September 2015 and launched at Davos, aims to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. Related, the World Resources Institute (WRI) is advocating their food loss and waste protocol to quantify food loss and waste through better accounting practices. Also, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working to tighten the profile of their guidance document on food loss and waste prevention.

A potential strategy in this area is composting and anaerobic digestion of selected waste fractions to avoid greenhouse gas generation. This contest seeks proposals that address any aspect of waste management including reducing food loss and waste so that GHG emissions are lessened.

Greenhouse gas accounting:

Flaws in the GHG accounting system:

Another important issue is accounting for emissions generated in waste management. There are flaws in the current accounting systems, indeed, there is not even complete agreement on what should be accounted for: only emissions generated in the course of waste disposal, or should emissions from the production process avoided through practices like recycling also be included?

Ideas of mandates for product and packaging manufacturers to use minimum amounts of recycled content in their products, which would encourage a more sophisticated system of recycling, and create strong secondary markets for the recyclable materials collected.  This could also include more widespread use of “Extended Producer Responsibility” policies that are gaining acceptance in certain parts of the world.

A potential strategy to improve the accounting system is clarifying and codifying the standards defining GHG for industrial settings. This contest seeks proposals that address waste management by innovating emissions accounting practices.


Financing to support mitigation activities:

A current barrier to implementing mitigation technology is financing the projects. There are currently 1 billion people living in 450 cities that were represented at the Paris COP-21 climate talks. However, less than 10% of these municipalities are able to access credit via international markets to support infrastructure projects that could mitigate emissions (World Bank 2016). What schemes, either domestic or international, can be created to support governments that want to implement reduction strategies?

A potential strategy is revising the bond markets to support infrastructure development that is specifically designed to reduce emissions at a municipal level. This contest seeks proposals that address waste management and GHG reduction through creative financing schemes.

We encourage participants to tackle the complex questions of waste management, asking: how can we shift to a more sustainable industrial ecological model, converting materials to be part of the circular economy? What management system is in place and do recipients of the waste have the capacity to manage the material in a sustainable way?

Judging Criteria

Judges will be asked to evaluate proposals on the following criteria: feasibility, novelty, impact and presentation quality.  Winning proposals will be especially strong in at least one of the first three dimensions, and also well presented.  For details about the judging criteria, click here.

You can find the proposal template here, and contest schedule here.


Top proposals in each contest will be awarded...

Judges’ Choice Winner – Strongest overall
Popular Choice Winner – Received the most votes during the voting period
Impact Award – Largest impact and highly feasible
Novelty Award – Most innovative

The Judges’ and Popular Choice Winners will be invited to MIT to present their proposal, enter the Climate CoLab Winners Program and be eligible for the $10,000 Grand Prize. All award winners will receive wide recognition and visibility by the MIT Climate CoLab. 

All Finalists are asked to submit a 3-minute video outlining their proposal.  Videos will be featured on the MIT Climate CoLab website and Winners will show their videos at the conference.

If your proposal is included in a top global climate action plan, you will receive CoLab Points, which are redeemable for cash prizes.

Resources for Proposal Authors