EPA Report Links Recycling and Climate Change

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The EPA recently published a report linking materials management, including recycling and waste management, and land management to a reduction in the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The September 2009 report, titled Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices, finds 42 percent of GHG emissions are influenced by materials management policies, including the manufacturing, transporting and disposal of products. In addition, another 16 to 20 percent of GHG emissions are linked to land management policies, including construction and development.

A 50 percent reduction in packaging use would yield the avoidance of 40-105 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions. Photo: Flickr/uzbeckistan

A 50 percent reduction in packaging use would yield the avoidance of 40-105 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions. Photo: Flickr/uzbeckistan

The report highlights examples of how materials and land-management activities by the EPA, states, local governments and stakeholders have led to a significant reduction in GHG emissions. Examples include:

  • Municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling in 2006 resulted in the avoidance of nearly 183 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions.
  • EPA WasteWise partners reported source reduction and recycling activities which resulted in an avoidance of 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions in 2005.
  • Waste-to-energy recovery systems that combusted 31.4 million tons of MSW resulted in the avoidance of 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions in 2006.

As materials and land management directly and indirectly impacts 58 to 62 percent of U.S. GHG emissions, the U.S. EPA finds tremendous reduction opportunities in the nation’s approaches to these two areas. Some of the activities that have the potential to significantly decrease emissions include:

  • Use-reduction of non-packaging paper products.
  • Increasing municipal recycling, including the recycling of construction and demolition debris which contributes to an EPA estimated 170 million tons of debris annually.
  • Reusing formerly contaminated lands for renewable energy development.

To illustrate the impact of source reduction, reuse and recycling activities on GHG emissions, the EPA report provided a summary of total technical potential scenarios and the estimated impact they would have on GHG reductions.

For example, a 50 percent increase in the recycling of construction and demolition debris would lead to the avoidance of 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions. And an increase in the 2006 MSW recycling and composting rate (32.5 percent) to a 50 percent rate would lead to the avoidance of 70 to 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions.