When we think of Climate Change, we have a general consensus that we need to reduce our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Often times, we are led to believe that the greatest reductions we can make tend to either be in the transportation sector or energy generation sector. In 2006, these two domains accounted for roughly 57% of our individual GHG footprint. However, as you can see in the graph provided, in the same year, the provision and discarding of materials consists of 42% of our individual GHG footprint. This graph clearly depicts a core value we have here at EcoGeneration- To reduce GHG and lessen the future impact of Climate Change, we need to examine the stuff we are buying and how we are disposing of it. This blog will briefly outline waste and its GHG basic imprint.
The consensus is that CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) , N2O (Nitrous Oxide) , Ch4 (Methane), and Hydrocarbon emissions need to be reduced systematically and individually, in order to minimize future heating of the planet. While, many of these chemicals are emitted in our obvious choices; such as, driving our own car versus riding a bus, taking a train versus flying or even riding a bike as your primary method of transportation. Many of these noxious gases are also released by our everyday purchases and how we choose to discard materials that we no longer need.
When examining the graph, you can see that the provision of stuff only accounts for 39.8% of the 42%. Why then focus on the waste aspect to begin with? It only accounts for less than 3% of our total individual GHG footprint. The reason is simple, a good portion of the upstream GHG emissions occur as a result of how stuff is grown, made, sourced, transported etc (and all that packaging). The more recycled materials sourced for manufacturing directly reduces the need for virgin sourced materials. In any raw material category, there are more GHG reductions when materials are sourced from our waste, rather than from the environment or a petrochemical lab.
Another reason to briefly focus on waste as a driver of Climate Change is the amount of CH4 that landfills emit. This is an area where individual choice can have a significant impact. Choices such as working to reduce food waste, finding alternative ways to use yard debris, reducing excessive purchases of food, and working to eat all the food you purchase. These actions will directly reduce the amount of natural materials that are sent to the landfill. CH4 emissions are driven primarily through organics (plant matter/protein matter) decomposing in an oxygen deprived environment.
In order to decrease the impact of our consumption directly at the end of its lifespan it is important to approach your waste in terms of categories. Reuse anything that still has a lifespan. If you cannot reuse the item, consider donating it. If it is no longer useful, is there a way to upcycle the item, by turning it into something else? If it is not possible to reuse the item, is it possible to recycle the item? Next, if the item cannot be recycled such as tissues, paper towels, napkins, cotton/paper q-tips, non-protein food waste- we would recommend looking into a composting system. If it is a protein based source of food, that too can be composted once it has been through a Bokashi system. If none of these options are appropriate then we would recommend that you discard it in the trash. When discarding items in the trash, it may be helpful to make a mental note of the waste, so that you are able to avoid it in the future.
By reusing an item, you are directly extending its lifespan and reducing its GHG footprint. This is because GHG footprint is based on its intended use, and lifespan. it is always best to work to make things last longer, and find ways to upcycle them after they are no longer needed. This topic will be discussed in great detail in future blog posts. If you are unable to find a reuse for a product we would recommend donating it to a local thrift store. When you donate items, be sure to also look around the store for any items that you may have on a wish list or shopping list. It is imperative the the reuse circle be completed, and the only way to complete this loop is to donate, and make purchases at second hand stores.
In recent years, its not that we haven't been recycling, its that the recycling we are producing is highly contaminated. This directly impacts the quality and therefore desirability of recycled materials on the market. When the quality of materials is in question, the value of the materials also comes into question. It is important that we all work to reduce the contamination we are sending through the recycling stream. Not everything that is recyclable, can be accepted in the curbside bin. We highly recommend that everyone identify what is and is not recyclable through their waste hauler. We also recommend that everyone identify what type of condition your recycling can be in. By knowing the items that you are able to recycle, and the acceptable condition you are working to reduce instances of wishcycling in your household. Lastly, we highly recommend that you label your recycle bin with what is and is not accepted. If you reside in Lane County, Oregon you can obtain a label (created and provided by Lane County Waste Management) for any hauler or transfer station in the county.
Composting is an essential part of waste management, and a central component to directly reducing CH4 emissions in the landfill. When organic waste (food, animals, paper, etc) break down in our landfill it emits CH4, a GHG significantly more potent to climate change. When organic materials break down in an environment that lacks oxygen (anaerobic environment), methane is created by the bacteria that is slowly decaying the materials. In addition, toxic leachate is also created, another source of pollution.
There are many types of composting systems, and we will get more into this in future blog posts. A cursory Ecosia Search is bound to land you with some great materials. In order to compost anything that has animal protein (including pet waste, bones, meat, and dairy), you will first need to put it through a Bokashi system.
Waste Management is so much more than just taking things to a landfill. We all have the power to make choices that offset our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions. Recycling is but one aspect of waste management. When you recycle right, you ensure that you are not pushing the footprint onto someone else.
Images sourced from Recycling 101- OHSU Extension