We use a LOT of energy…to heat our homes, to transport ourselves, and to make stuff. Energy went into making the computer you’re using right now, the clothes you’re wearing, the food you ate for breakfast, and pretty much everything you’ve ever bought, used, or thrown away. All that energy emits a lot of greenhouse gases (GHG), contributing to our climate problem. We hear a lot about changing our energy systems to tackle climate change, how energy and transportation are the two biggest culprits — the smokestacks and the tailpipes. But if a lot of those smokestack and tailpipe emissions come from making all our stuff, shouldn’t we be talking about HOW our stuff is made, too?
Smokestacks, Tailpipes and Trash Cans
More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food — how we make it, haul it, use it and throw it away. It’s called our consumption emissions. The more we buy and throw away stuff, the more energy it takes to make new stuff, and the faster climate change accelerates. Zero Waste addresses the entire system of our stuff and can substantially reduce climate emissions by changing what and how much we buy, what resources went into making it, how long it’s designed to last, how much gets reused, recycled or composted, and what we throw away. Zero Waste is one of the fastest, easiest, most cost-effective short-term climate solutions We need time to solve our long-term energy and transportation problems. Zero Waste strategies can be implemented TODAY, using existing technologies and proven programs, and produce immediate results. Zero Waste can help buy us some time to develop more complex energy and transportation solutions.
By 2030, Zero Waste strategies could reduce GHG emissions by more than 400 million metric tons CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking more than 20% of U.S. coal-fired powered plants off the grid. This means Zero Waste offers greater annual GHG savings than expanding nuclear power, significantly improving vehicle efficiency, carbon capture projects, and many other prominent climate strategies. Zero Waste strategies are also cost-effective climate solutions. ICLEI calls out recycling and composting as some of the most cost-effective actions local governments can take to reduce community GHG emissions. Communities around the world are investing in Zero Waste as a priority climate action. One of California’s first actions in its landmark climate change policy was to require businesses and apartments to recycle, a move that will reduce GHG emissions by five million metric tons….
Leading experts support Zero Waste as a climate solution:
“Recycling is already making a major contribution to keeping down emissions. Indeed, its scale is so little appreciated that it might be described as one of the ‘best kept secrets’ in energy and climate change…”
-Renowned Economist Lord Nicholas Stern, Blueprint for a Safer Planet
The New York Times (NYT Opinion) printed an opinion piece by John Tierney (@JohnTierneyNYC) that astounded us by the sheer number of inaccurate statements and misrepresentations about the economic and environmental impact of the recycling industry. We thought it would be helpful to point a bunch of them out and share third-party, verifiable sources.