Climate Change and Waste
The Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with accelerated warming during the past two decades. Current evidence suggests that it is likely that human activities have contributed to this warming. Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) - primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - through the combustion of fossil fuels and from various agricultural and industrial processes. While there is uncertainty regarding the human and ecological impacts of climate change, scientists have identified that our health, agriculture, water resources, forests, wildlife and coastal areas are vulnerable to the changes that global warming may bring. Additional information on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change can be found on EPA's Climate Change website.
The Climate and Waste Connection
Every stage of a product's life cycleextraction, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposalindirectly or directly contributes to the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere and affects the global climate. For instance, product manufacturing releases GHGs both directly, from the manufacturing process, and indirectly, from the energy produced to run the plant. Extraction and distribution require gasoline-powered vehicles that release CO2. Discarded products typically end up in a landfill, which releases methane as products decompose.
Waste prevention and recyclingjointly referred to as waste reductionoffer significant potential for decreasing GHG emissions. EPA estimates that simply increasing our national recycling rate from its current level of 30 percent to 35 percent would reduce GHG emissions by another 10 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE). That amount is equal to the average annual emissions from the electricity consumed by roughly 4.6 million households.
Reducing Climate Change with WasteWise
WasteWise helps organizations reduce their impact on global climate change through waste reduction. WasteWise provides technical assistance for waste prevention, recycling, and buying recycled, all of which contribute to lowering GHG emissions.
WasteWise also provides climate-specific technical assistance to help you identify your waste-related greenhouse gas reductions. WasteWise uses the WAste Reduction Model (WARM) to calculate the GHG reductions associated with partners' recycling and waste prevention activities. WasteWise also provides partners with an annual Climate Profile, which translates technical GHG reduction data into an easily understandable, graphics-enhanced report.
Since its inception in 1994, WasteWise partners have reported more than 120 million tons of waste reduced. As a result of these activities, WasteWise partners have made significant achievements reducing their impact on global climate change by GHG emissions by greater than 7.3 million metric tons of carbon equivalent.1 That's equivalent to taking approximately 5.8 million automobiles off the road for one year.