waste and climate change
Trash and landfills a much more than unappealing eyesores. As a contributor to global climate change, waste ranks third behind energy and transportation; there are multiple direct and indirect connections at every step of the way.
To begin with, extracting and manufacturing new materials uses many times more energy than using recycled materials. Producing a can from recycled aluminum, for instance, requires only 5% of the energy required to make one from virgin materials. Perhaps paper recycling is more obvious: saving trees cools the planet.
The other end of a product’s life – landfills and incinerators – also contributes to the climate crisis. Landfills are the biggest human-caused source of methane emissions (a powerful greenhouse gas). Trash incinerators also produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. More waste and climate change facts, from the report Stop Trashing the Climate:
-- 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are linked to waste. The Product Policy Institute released a similar report detailing how large a role product and packaging waste play in climate change. Based on research from the U.S. EPA, their conclusion is that products and packaging account for a staggering 44% of global warming gases in America!
-- Methane is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
-- By recycling 90 percent of our trash, Americans could shut down 21 percent of the country's coal-fired power plants.
-- Americans make up 5 percent of the world's population and generate 30 percent of the world's waste.
The Product Policy Institute released a similar report detailing how large a role product and packaging waste play in climate change. Based on research from the U.S. EPA, their conclusion is that products and packaging account for a staggering 44% of global warming gases in America!
Waste prevention, reduction and recycling also have many different effects on greenhouse gas emmissions. Here are just a few benefits or reducing and recycling waste, from the U.S. EPA website on waste and climate change.
-- Reduce methane emissions from landfills. Waste prevention and recycling (including composting) divert organic wastes from landfills, thereby reducing the methane released when these materials decompose. To learn more about keeping organic waste out of landfills, visit COOL 2010 Project.
-- Reduce emissions from incinerators. Recycling and waste prevention allow some materials to be diverted from incinerators and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of waste.
-- Reduce emissions from energy consumption. Recycling saves energy. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials. Waste prevention is even more effective at saving energy. When people reuse things or when products are made with less material, less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials and to manufacture products. The payoff? When energy demand decreases, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere.
-- Increase storage of carbon in trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood, in a process called "carbon sequestration." Waste prevention and recycling of paper products allow more trees to remain standing in the forest, where they can continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Zero waste for a cool planet
Many governments and businesses are implementing effective waste reduction programs to go far beyond our current recycling efforts. "Zero Waste" is at once the idea and goal of eliminating waste altogether. A truly sustainable approach to the problems with trash, landfills and incinerators, zero waste is gaining momentum across the nation and world. Click here to learn more about zero waste!