Expert Voices: Karen Luken

The director of CCI’s Waste Management Program, Karen Luken, has 25 years of experience in the waste management sector. She will be attending the Summit with her global team, and participating in sessions on Integrated Waste Management and Landfill Gas Capture and Energy Generation.

This excerpt is from a January, 2011 interview. The full text can be found here.

Our goal is for governments and businesses to use waste as a resource. In existing landfills this means capturing landfill gas to create energy; for new waste streams, it means diverting waste from landfill disposal to recycling and composting facilities. The optimal use of waste as a resource is to convert it directly to energy. This can be done through waste-to-energy technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, which creates bio-gas fuel from food scraps and plant debris.

In each of these areas, CCI is developing flagship demonstration projects. In many places our first step is to build awareness about advanced waste management practices. We then offer policy and financial analysis and frameworks, as well as provide local training so that projects can be sustained long after our direct involvement ceases. In the long run, we are helping to establish self-perpetuating markets for waste-derived products and energy.

Large-scale projects with viable financial models, supportive policies, and measurable results create powerful examples for others to follow. But getting from demonstration projects to robust waste management infrastructure and self-sustaining markets does not happen overnight.

Currently, few cities have sufficient capabilities to convert waste to products or energy. In Africa, for example, there is not a single municipal waste-to-energy facility in operation. The lack of infrastructure goes hand-in-hand with the lack of markets for products such as recycled plastics, organic fertilizer, and bio-fuels. To attract investment, projects need a reliable input — sufficient quantities of high-quality waste — and there must also be buyers of whatever output is produced.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we are helping the city’s largest farmer’s market create a closed-loop system in which the organic waste of individual vendors is aggregated to send 350,000 tons to a composting facility each year; the compost created will then be sold back to the farmers at the market. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, CCI is coordinating key stakeholders of markets across the city to jointly supply organic waste to a proposed organics management facility. In Johannesburg we are helping the city change its environmental bylaws to provide a regulatory framework to enable the development of waste-to-energy facilities.

The CCI’s Waste Management Program helps public and private sector partners implement advanced and integrated waste management systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate clean energy and use waste as a resource. The program currently has a pipeline of 30 projects being developed in 14 countries around the world.