Everyone knows that reducing waste is good for the environment because it conserves natural resources. What many people don’t know is that solid waste reduction and recycling also have an impact on global climate change.
The manufacture, distribution, and use of products — as well as management of the resulting waste — all result in greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the upper atmosphere, occur naturally and help create climates that sustain life on our planet. Increased concentrations of these gases, though, can contribute to rising global temperatures, sea level changes, and other climate changes.
Waste prevention and recycling — jointly referred to as waste reduction — help us better manage the solid waste we generate. But reducing waste is a potent strategy for reducing greenhouse gases because it can:
Reduce emissions from energy consumption. Recycling saves energy. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials. When people reuse goods or when products are made with less material, less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials and to manufacture products. When energy demand decreases, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere.
Reduce emissions from incinerators. Recycling and waste prevention divert materials from incinerators and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste combustion.
Reduce methane emissions from landfills. Waste prevention and recycling (including composting) divert organic wastes from landfills, reducing the methane that would be released if these materials decomposed in a landfill.
Increase storage of carbon in forests. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood in a process called “carbon sequestration.” Waste prevention and recycling paper products allows more trees to remain standing in the forest, where they can continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.