In metro Washington across the US and around the world waste continues to be a major contributor to climate change. In the last 35 years the amount of waste produced per person nationally has nearly doubled from 2.7 to 4.4 pounds per day and about 54 percent of this – 136 million tons – is still thrown away in landfills!
The entire process of solid waste disposal as shown in the EPA’s diagram below produces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a number of ways. First the decomposition of waste sent to landfills creates methane which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill sites attempt to burn off this gas or capture it for fuel but not all of it can be contained. Alternately processing trash at waste-to-energy plants creates energy for the community which helps to offset GHG emission from avoided fossil fuel use but there are still some carbon dioxide by-products. Finally all the materials disposed of are constantly replaced by new products which oftentimes require the use of fossil fuels to extract raw materials and manufacture these items.
Click to view the process of solid waste disposal
Recycling is one of the simplest ways to help curb emissions and reduce the production of waste. It reduces the expenditure of non-renewable fuels used to produce new products. For example according to MWCOG’s GoRecycle campaign an office building of 7000 workers that recycles 100 percent of its plastic and paper equates to taking 952 cars or over 501000 gallons of gas off the road per year.
The traditional process of organizing recyclable material by type has also become more streamlined. New technologies have allowed for materials to be mixed into a single sort. Recycled items are collected and then delivered to a local materials recovery facility that refines and redistributes recycled products into salable goods such as plastic aluminum paper steel and glass.
As one of many initiatives to address environmental issues in the region GoRecycle has launched its 10th annual public awareness campaign to educate residents about the benefits of recycling in the workplace. Its website GoRecycle.org contains includes a series of facts about recycling info about where to recycle as well as links to external sites and resources.