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State and Local Climate and Energy Program

Solid Waste and Materials Management

Forty percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are linked to use of material goods and their disposal. Resource conservation and good end-of-life materials management offer important opportunities to reduce national GHG emissions.

The term “materials management” refers to the life cycle of materials as they trace their course through the economy, from raw material extraction to product manufacture, transport, use, source reduction, reuse, recycling, and disposal.

Materials management often uses this life-cycle perspective since it helps uncover the less-visible resource and energy needs that go into creating a final product. The life-cycle approach also considers the GHG implications of managing the material at the end of its useful life.

Resource Conservation
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GHG Reduction Opportunities from Resource Conservation

Source reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and energy recovery are all examples of resource conservation. Resource conservation avoids GHG emissions from common waste management pathways, including:

  • Emissions from combustion - Waste incineration produces emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (NOX), a GHG that is 310 times as potent as CO2.
  • Emissions from transportation - Transporting waste to disposal sites produces GHG emissions from the combustion of the fuel used in the equipment.
  • Emissions from landfills - Waste in landfills decomposes anaerobically and produces methane (CH4), a GHG that is 21 times as potent as CO2.

In terms of climate benefits, reducing and reusing materials offer the best approaches to reduce GHGs. Because no waste is generated, Source Reduction and Reuse avoid all emissions associated with recycling, composting, combusting, or landfilling the material.

Recycling typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials. Energy savings from recycling translates into GHG savings because fewer fossil fuels are combusted to produce energy.

Source reduction and recycling can also increase carbon storage in forests. By preventing or reducing harvests of raw materials, preserved trees continue to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Composting produces a useful product from organic waste that otherwise would have been landfilled, therefore composting helps prevent methane emissions from and leachate formulation in landfills.

Energy recovery at incineration facilities and landfills can conserve resources by offsetting fossil fuels used for energy. Energy recovery is often associated with electricity generation, such as landfill methane capture, although it can also offset fossil fuels used at industrial sites, resulting in fewer GHG emissions.

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State Resource Conservation Opportunities

State governments can play a big role in resource conservation by setting policies, establishing programs, providing education and outreach to local communities, and leading by example. State governments can:

Develop a state climate change action plan using state GHG inventory data to identify where resource-and waste-related emissions are occurring and inform development of emission reduction goals. State climate action plans identify the waste sector as a key opportunity for reducing emissions.

What is Life-cycle Accounting?

Life-cycle accounting quantifies emissions associated with the production, use, and end-of-life management of a particular material. This approach includes all related emissions—regardless of where or when they occur.

Life-cycle GHG emissions include the impacts of the raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal. When viewed in this context, materials use and management encompass a significant share of total GHG emissions.

State government GHG accounting methods generally quantify emissions from specific sectors for discrete periods of time. Life-cycle analysis offers an alternate view of GHG emissions.

For more information on GHG inventories and waste, visit Measuring Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Waste.

Develop plans to reduce emissions by implementing waste management actions from state climate action plans.

  • Capture methane from existing landfills by promoting projects that use landfill methane as a fuel (i.e., landfill gas-to-energy projects) or that flare landfill gas.
  • Promote source reduction initiatives. State governments can offer source reduction credit systems, in which counties receive incentives for implementing source reduction activities.
  • Promote programs that encourage waste reduction. State governments can encourage participation of municipal governments and organizations, private businesses, and local citizens in these programs. Examples of these programs include EPA's WasteWise and Plug-in to eCycling.
  • Promote programs that provide financial incentives for waste reduction, such as refund programs for recyclables and volume-based fee programs like EPA's Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT).
  • Support the collection and analysis of data on waste, resource conservation practices, landfills, and landfill methane emissions. High-quality data tracking allows for identification of which strategies work best, how changes in waste management are affecting GHG emissions, and where improvements can be made. These data also can be used in GHG inventory development and life-cycle accounting.

Leading by example is an opportunity to implement voluntary resource conservation strategies in public buildings. States can mandate specific waste reduction goals for their own operations, make expanded recycling and composting an integral part of daily operations, and set minimum recycled content requirements for product purchasing.

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Tools and Resources

Calculators | Resources | Programs | Success Stories

Calculators

GHG Equivalency Calculator

The GHG Equivalency Calculator translates emissions amounts into terms that are more easily understandable. For example, the calculator translates emissions in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) into “emissions of X number of cars annually” and other metrics.

Recycled Content (ReCon) Tool

ReCon helps organizations, companies, and individuals estimate life-cycle GHG emissions and energy impacts from purchasing and/or manufacturing materials with varying degrees of post-consumer recycled content.

Recycling Measurement Tool

The Recycling Measurement Tool assists state governments in assessing their recycling efforts. This tool allows states to compare recycling rates of other states and communities and provides useful information for setting up a recycling program.

SMART BET

SMART BET (Saving Money And Reducing Trash Benefit Evaluation Tool) is designed to help waste managers decide whether a Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program is the right model for waste management in communities in their state.

State Inventory and Projection Tool

EPA's State Inventory and Projection Tool is an interactive spreadsheet model designed to help states develop GHG emissions inventories. The tool gives users the option of applying their own state-specific data or using default data pre-loaded for each state. The default data is gathered by federal agencies and other sources covering fossil fuels, agriculture, forestry, waste management, and industry. The State Inventory Tool provides a streamlined way to update an existing inventory or complete a new inventory. The State Projection Tool allows users to create a basic “business as usual” forecast of emissions through 2020.

WAste Reduction Model (WARM)

EPA created the WAste Reduction Model (WARM) to help solid waste planners and organizations track and voluntarily report greenhouse gas emissions reductions from several different waste management practices. WARM calculates and totals GHG emissions of baseline and alternative waste management practices-source reduction, recycling, combustion, composting, and landfilling.

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Resources

Estimating GHG Reductions from Waste Management

Estimating GHG Reductions from State Actions to Improve Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Management Practices (PDF) (10 pp, 171K) provides information for states on incorporating municipal solid waste management into their action plans. The document contains useful information on determining the impact of waste management strategies on GHG emissions.

Food Recovery Guide

EPA's Guide for Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste through Food Recovery (PDF) (59 pp, 1.5MB) discusses the link between food recovery, waste reduction, and feeding the hungry.

Life-Cycle Assessments of Waste Materials

EPA's Solid Waste Management and Greenhouse Gases: A Life-Cycle Assessment of Emissions and Sinks reports on GHG emissions from management of common materials in municipal solid waste. For the materials covered in WARM, EPA has published Background Documents detailing the methodology and data used to develop the emission factors.

Materials Management Webinars

EPA's West Coast Forum on Climate Change, Waste Prevention, Recovery and Disposal is a series of webinars to educate stakeholders on the connection between climate change and materials management, and how state and local governments can use resource conservation as part of their climate strategy.

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Programs

Climate Leaders

Climate Leaders is an industry-government partnership that works with companies to develop comprehensive climate change strategies. Partner companies commit to reducing their impact on the global environment by completing a corporate-wide inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions based on a quality management system, setting aggressive reduction goals, and annually reporting their progress to EPA.

Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP)

LMOP is a voluntary assistance and partnership program that promotes the use of landfill gas as a renewable, green energy source. By preventing emissions of methane through the development of landfill gas energy projects, LMOP helps businesses, states, energy providers, and communities protect the environment and build a sustainable future.

Pay as You Throw (PAYT)

States can promote PAYT programs in which residents are charged for the collection of household trash based on the amount they throw away. This creates a direct economic incentive to recycle more and to generate less waste.

Recycle on the Go

Recycle on the Go is an EPA initiative encouraging recycling in public places such as parks, stadiums, convention centers, airports and other transportation hubs, shopping centers, and at special events.

Responsible Appliance Disposal Program

The Responsible Appliance Disposal Program is a partnership program for businesses that recover ozone-depleting substances from old large appliances. By capturing and destroying the chemicals from the appliances, partners also prevent GHG emissions.

Voluntary Reporting of GHGs Program

The Department of Energy's Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program encourages corporations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, households, and other private and public entities to submit annual reports of their GHG emissions, as well as their activities that reduce emissions.

WasteWise

WasteWise is a program to help partner organizations (including states) meet goals to reduce and recycle their waste. WasteWise helps state agencies with waste reduction, and provides success stories of state waste reduction initiatives.

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Success Stories

California

California's Integrated Waste Management Board promotes a goal of Zero Waste. This goal is based on the concept that waste represents an inefficiency in our economy, and that finding ways to reduce that waste will ultimately lead to more efficient processes.

Connecticut

Connecticut, spurred by concern with closing landfills in the 1980s, has committed to increasingly higher recycling goals. By gradually adding more and more materials to the list of mandatory recyclables/compostables, the state had achieved a 25 percent recycling rate, and is aiming for 40 percent. Other New England states have also set aggressive goals. For example Maine has a 50 percent recycling rate goal, while Vermont is aiming for a 50 percent waste diversion goal Exit EPA disclaimer.

Florida

Florida has set a goal of recycling 75 percent of its waste Exit EPA disclaimer by 2020. Florida's Department of Environmental Protection is expected to submit a plan for achieving this goal to the state Legislature for approval in 2010.

Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin

Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin have implemented statewide requirements for Pay as You Throw (PAYT) programs Exit EPA disclaimer, requiring individuals and organizations to be charged for waste disposal based on how much they throw away. PAYT programs provide direct economic incentives to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill.

Oregon

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Exit EPA disclaimer used emission factors from EPA's WAste Reduction Model (WARM) to quantify the potential GHG benefits of different waste management activities. These estimates were then used as part of a state initiative to develop realistic GHG reduction targets for Oregon.

Center for Ecological Technology

With support from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and foundations, the nonprofit Center for Ecological Technology successfully implemented an on-farm composting program (PDF) (2 pp, 423K) to divert organic commercial and farm waste from landfills. By selling the resulting compost to landscapers and gardeners, and by avoiding some tipping fees at landfills, this program provides direct financial incentives for participation.

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