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Tribal Climate and Energy Resources & Opportunities

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Learn from other Tribes

EPA’s Tribal Solid Waste Journals present case studies of how tribes are taking advantage of opportunities in waste management:

The Gila River Indian Community Recycling Program

The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) has been expanding its recycling program since it began in 1995 with a cardboard initiative. With the assistance of a Climate Showcase Communities Grant, broad partnerships, and community participation, GRIC established a residential recycling program that now offers bimonthly curbside collection in the participating districts. As of October 2012, the 18th month of the program, GRIC residents had recycled 117 tons of materials (~6 tons monthly) with 40% participation, and had reduced emissions by 327 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. For more information about the GRIC project, read the case study here.

Solid Waste & Materials Management

Tribal Solid Waste and Materials Management 
Waste disposal can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in the following ways:

  • Waste incineration, or burning trash, emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 310 times as potent as CO2.
  • Transporting waste to disposal sites is typically done with trucks that burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases.
  • Decomposition of wastes in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times as potent as CO2.

Using fewer disposable materials, reusing products, recycling what is no longer usable, and recovering energy created during the disposal process are all opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, managing waste responsibly can protect tribal lands from pollution, serve as an energy source, and produce high-quality soil amendments (e.g. mulch, compost or fertilizers).

Read on to learn about programs, guidance, case studies, and financing that support tribal solid waste and materials management.

Tribal Benefits of Solid Waste and Materials Management

  • Environment - Current waste management practices can contaminate/degrade local water and air quality; alternative approaches avoid pollution, improving air and water quality. Recycling also reduces the need to harvest or mine virgin resources such as trees, oil and minerals, thus preserving the environment.
  • Economic - Alternative approaches to waste management provide opportunities for new economic development such as compost facilities and recycling programs, both of which may create jobs and marketable products.
  • Cultural - Waste management may help protect cultural values by conserving vital resources and minimizing the environmental impact of materials throughout their entire life cycles, ensuring that tribal resources will be available for future generations.
  • Health - Burning and storing waste can lead to local health concerns; alternative materials management approaches avoid pollution, improving air quality and the health of residents.

Solid Waste and Materials Management Opportunities
There are many ways for tribes to benefit from transitioning to more sustainable solid waste and materials management:

  • RecyclingManufacturing goods from recycled materials generallyuses less energy and results in lower greenhouse emissions than producing goods from virgin materials. Source reduction and recycling also help to increase carbon storage in forests by limiting the need to cut down trees for raw materials, preserve oil and natural gas resources, and reduce the environmental impacts associated with aluminum and steel production. For more information about common recyclables, visit the U.S. EPA's “How Do I Recycle?” webpage.
  • Responsible Appliance Disposal – Collection and proper recycling of older refrigerant-containing appliances saves energy, prevents emissions of greenhouse gases and substances that harm the ozone layer, and helps keep communities clean by preventing appliance dumping and release of hazardous materials such as mercury and PCBs. EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal Program has more information about appliance recycling best practices.
  • Composting – Food scraps, yard trimmings, and compostable products can be diverted from the landfill into home composting or industrial composting facilities. Organic waste can be turned into high-quality soil amendments (e.g. mulch, compost, and fertilizers), which can be sold or used in agricultural or landscaping operations. Organic waste disposed of in a landfill contributes to methane emissions and leachate that result from landfilling.
  • Combustion with Energy Recovery – Energy recovery at incineration facilities and landfills helps conserve resources by reducing the use of fossil fuels. The recovery and use of landfill gas also helps reduce methane emissions from landfills. EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program can help tribes assess project feasibility, find financing, and market the benefits of project development to the community. Tribes can also earn revenue from selling Landfill Gas Energy (PDF) (34 pp, 2.2M, About PDF) directly to end users or into the pipeline, or from selling electricity generated from landfill gas to the grid. Learn about energy recovery options here.
  • Consumer Reduction and Reuse – Using fewer disposable goods and reusing goods that still work prevents pollution, saves energy and money, and helps preserve the environment for future generations. For more information about the benefits of and opportunities to reduce waste and reuse products, visit the U.S. EPA’s Reducing and Reusing Basics website.

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