Waste Reduction and Recycling Can Cut CO2 by 345 Million Tons Year

epa waste reduction image
Source: EPA

Don't Underestimate Good Ol' Recycling!

When it comes to reducing CO2, we almost always talk about power plants and vehicles. But a new study by the EPA (pdf) shows that, if you consider the whole life-cycle, a huge chunk of greenhouse gas emissions (42%) are caused by the way people in the US "procure, produce, deliver and dispose of goods and services". It concludes that waste reduction and recycling are very powerful tools to reduce CO2 emissions: According to the report's projections, if we were to reduce packaging in general by 50%, reduce non-packaging paper products by 50%, extend the life of computers by 25%, increase recycling of construction and demolition debris to 50%, and increase solid municipal waste composting and recycling to 50%, we could cut US CO2 emissions by about 354 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2E). Each year.

epa waste reduction image
Source: EPA

Joshua Stolaroff, the report's lead technical author, told the NYT that "[waste reduction and recycling] were essentially considered small or zero in terms of how important they are to the climate change mitigation toolbox" and that "extending the life of products in general is probably a huge opportunity."

epa waste reduction image
Source: EPA

A Balanced Approach That Includes Waste Reduction and Recycling
Of course, it's easier said than done, but there are many pioneers (f.ex. San Francisco and Seattle, as well as many corporations, have zero waste plans) and if they are successful, others will no doubt emulate them. The lesson here is that we should not focus all our attention on power generation and transport, but find a balanced approach that starts by targeting the low-hanging fruits in each of those sectors, including what the EPA lumps under "materials and land management".

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Recycling Bins From Around the World
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Footprints in Waste Management: Taking Steps toward Zero Waste

Tags: Recycling | Waste


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