EPA.gov | Source Reduction and Recycling: A Role in Preventing Global Climate Change

Recycling has many direct benefits (e.g., resource conservation); however, the indirect benefits of recycling, while often overlooked, are also significant. Indirect benefits of recycling can range from creating jobs and tax revenues to make communities stronger and more appealing to residents. The production, transport, and disposal of municipal solid waste leads to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. GHG emissions trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The release of these gases occurs at every stage of a product’s life-cycle, thus contributing to climate change. However, certain measures can be taken to reduce the potentially negative effects on human health and the environment due to changes in the Earth’s atmosphere.

EPA estimates that cutting back waste generation to a level consistent with 1990 could reduce GHG emissions by 11.6 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE). Increasing our national recycling rate from its current level of 28% to 35% would reduce GHG emissions by 9.8 MMTCE, compared to landfilling the same material. Together, these levels of waste prevention and recycling would slash emissions by more than 21.4 MMTCE–an amount equal to the average annual emissions from the electricity consumption of roughly 11 million households.

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