Recycling of “waste” resources, complementing waste reduction, not only conserves valuable landfill space, but can significantly reduce overall solid waste-related emissions, e.g. emissions generated from raw materials processing, manufacturing, hauling of waste, and potentially from incineration.
Waste as an Emissions Source
Waste reduction and recycling can reduce solid waste greenhouse gas emissions by both lowering the demand for new materials and products (referred to as “upstream impacts”) and by minimizing “downstream impacts” such as transporting waste over long distances and disposing of it in landfills.
When materials such as metals and plastics are discarded rather than recycled, new materials must be used to make replacement products. The energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions related to producing new materials is usually higher than that of recycled or recovered materials.
The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) increased their solid waste diversion rate from 45% in 1998 to 57% in 2003.
Downstream emissions include emissions resulting from managing the waste materials, such as from hauling waste, and methane emissions from landfills. As landfills close and new locations become more difficult to find, transportation-related emissions are intensifying from increased hauling distances. However, landfill emissions, due primarily to methane production from organic materials, are typically much larger than hauling related emissions. Organics management is a key action to address these landfill emissions.
Local Government Role
Most local governments provide waste management services, such as waste collection, transportation, and landfill management. Often, solid waste management involves partnerships with private businesses, including haulers and materials processers. Whether services are delivered by government operations or by private business, waste reduction and recycling has the potential to address emissions associated with these services.
The Carbon Neutral framework for local government operations will not likely take into account upstream emissions reductions associated with solid waste, nor downstream landfill emission reductions. There may be some potential for local governments to reduce vehicle fleet emissions for hauling, depending on the location of materials processing facilities.
Although reducing waste and diverting materials from the landfill for recovery is dependent on public behaviour patterns, local governments can play a key role in shaping waste reduction and diversion through the provision of services and policies.
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