Recycling & Climate

According to a new EPA study, 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from the goods that we produce, consume and throw away.  Reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting waste will greatly reduce these emissions.

Doubling the recycling of construction and demolition debris would result in an emissions savings of 150 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year. That is equal to the entire annual carbon emissions from the state of North Carolina.

“In 2006, U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling resulted in the avoidance of nearly 183 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2E) in GHG emissions.”

In addition to avoiding emissions by reducing the energy needed to extract and then process new raw materials, recycling saves direct greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding the methane in landfills, and avoids greenhouse gas emissions from incinerators. According to the EPA, landfills are a leading source of human produced methane emissions, and incinerators release more greenhouse gas emissions than coal plants per unit of energy produced.

Recycling is an extremely cost-effective approach for reducing national climate pollution. Avoiding one ton of CO2 equivalent emissions through recycling costs 30% less than doing so through energy efficiency, and 90% less than wind power.

A critical part of a national recycling infrastructure is composting. The composting of biodegradable materials such as food scraps and yard trimmings – instead of dumping them in a landfill or incinerator – is critical to protecting our climate and restoring the health of U.S. agricultural soils.

More Resources on Climate & Recycling:

Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices, EPA (September 2009) (http://www NULL.epa NULL.gov/oswer/docs/ghg_land_and_materials_management NULL.pdf)

E.P.A. Report Suggests Waste Reduction and Recycling Reduces CO2 Emissions, Green Inc. New York Times blog (September 2009) (http://greeninc NULL.blogs NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2009/09/21/epa-reports-suggests-waste-reduction-and-recycling-reduces-co2-emissions/)

Products, Packaging and US Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Product Policy Institute (September 2009) (http://www NULL.productpolicy NULL.org/content/climate-change-epr)

Stop Trashing the Climate, ILSR, EcoCycle, and GAIA (2008) (http://www NULL.stoptrashingtheclimate NULL.org)