Wasteful production and consumption is a fundamental contributor to ecological decline and climate change. More importantly, the greenhouse gas reduction potential of waste prevention and recycling is huge.
From the conventional end-of-pipe perspective, the direct greenhouse gas emission from waste management — landfills and incinerators — are about 3% (… but see new estimates of methane impacts from landfills).
The Upstream View of Greenhouse Gas Production
From a waste prevention perspective that looks at emissions upstream, however, the impact of “materials management” is massive. About 38% of all greenhouse gas emissions result from the “Provision of Goods and Materials.” But this is only for the goods and materials produced in the US. The slide includes emissions associated with producing goods we sell to other countries, but leaves out the embodied carbon in imported goods and materials. Adding imports adds to the impact of goods and services, both because we import more than we export, and also because the countries we import from tend to have dirtier/more carbon-intensive energy sources.
Key Findings: Global Warming
- Conventionally, landfills and incinerators contribute ~1% of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions. But “upstream” (production-related) emissions of these materials are ~10 times higher (possibly more).
- Conventional accounting/inventories mask the full impact of materials
- Greenhouse gas potential of recycling is large
- “Counting recovery” in Oregon in 2005 reduced emissions by 3.3 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (4.6% of statewide emissions)
- Greenhouse gas potential of waste prevention is even larger
From David Allaway, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Presentation at EPA Webinar, August 5, 2008
EPR & Washington Climate Action Team
In 2008 the Governors Climate Action Team in Washington State proposed product stewardship and an EPR Framework policy as ways of addressing climate change.