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State and Local Climate and Energy Program

Solid Waste & 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 CO2 and nitrous oxide, 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, a GHG that is 21 times as potent as CO2.

In terms of climate benefits, reducing and reusing materials offers 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 the 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.

Local Government Resource Conservation Strategies

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.

Local 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 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Waste.

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

  • Promote source reduction initiatives. For example, in some cities, there are centralized locations for residents to drop off extra paint and household products, which other residents can then pick up for free.
  • Promote programs that encourage waste reduction. Local governments can encourage participation of municipal 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 can also be used in GHG inventory development and life-cycle accounting (see box).
  • 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.
  • Develop plans to reduce emissions by incorporating waste management into climate action plans.

Local governments can also lead by example to implement voluntary resource conservation strategies in public buildings. Local governments 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.

Tools and Resources

Calculators | Community Resources | Programs | Training Webinars and 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.

Office Carbon Footprint Tool

The Office Carbon Footprint Tool helps offices estimate the GHG impact of their operations.

Personal Emissions Calculator

The Personal Emissions Calculator allows individuals to estimate their annual GHG emissions and explore ways to reduce them.

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 local governments in assessing their recycling efforts. This tool allows local governments to compare recycling rates of other 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 their community.

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.

  • The iWARM tool is similar to WARM, but geared toward individuals. It helps consumers understand the lifecycle GHG savings associated with recycling common household products.

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Community Resources

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.

Pay as You Throw (PAYT)

Local governments 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.

WasteWise

WasteWise is a program to help partner organizations meet goals to reduce and recycle their waste. WasteWise includes WasteWise Communities that supports local governments in reducing residential municipal solid waste.

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.

Plug-in to eCycling

Plug-in to eCycling is a program that develops partnerships between EPA and leading electronics manufacturers to assist consumers in donating or recycling their used electronic devices.

Resource Conservation Challenge

The Resource Conservation Challenge is a nationwide effort challenging businesses, schools, governments, and individuals to prevent pollution, promote reuse and recycling, and conserve energy and materials.

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.

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Training Webinars and Success Stories

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.

Smart Communities Network

The Smart Communities Network website showcases numerous sustainable development success stories from communities across the country.

The Bottomline on Buying Recycled

The Bottomline on Buying Recycled (PDF) (2 pp, 138K) is a document that illustrates how some businesses improved their bottomline by using recycled materials in the products they purchase and manufacture.

Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Composting Options: Lessons from 30 Communities

The Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Composting Options: Lessons from 30 Communities report analyzes the actual operating experience of 30 diverse communities, and draws lessons for communities wanting to strengthen their own programs.

GreenScapes

EPA's GreenScapes program provides cost-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions for landscaping. Government agencies, companies, and landscapers have used this program to conserve resources. This website highlights some of these success stories and also provides valuable tools and resources.

Recycle on the Go

Recycle on the Go has helped many large venues bring recycling to their events. Visit the program website to read success stories and learn more.

WasteWise Success Stories

WasteWise has more than 1,700 members who have reduced a combined 120 million tons of waste. The WasteWise website publishes success stories for all organization types, including local and state governments.

Pay-As-You-Throw Success Stories

PAYT has helped several local communities reduce the waste they landfill. Access the success stories to learn more.

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