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How Composting and Recycling can Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Here's something that might come as a surprise: diverting recyclable and compostable materials from the garbage waste cycle can reduce an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). How much you ask? Well, composting and recycling programs in Oregon, Washington and California alone reduce GHC emissions equivalent to taking a whooping 6.3 million vehicles off of our roads for an entire year.


Shocking right? We thought so too. That's a lot of GHG! The information was found in a fascinating new report by the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum, an EPA-led partnership with an array of western government entities, called "Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Recycling and Composting".


The study points to four categories that have the greatest potential for reducing GHC emission if they are diverted from the waste stream and composted or recycled accordingly. The four categories are: carpet, core recyclables such as cans, paper and glass, dimensional lumber and food scraps.


Who knew composting and recycling would help reduce some of the very gases that contribute to climate change? The report, while focusing on only three western states, could have a broader impact on communities across the country. The bottom line is simple, the better established recycling and composting programs are, the less GHGs emitted. That's good news for the environment and for the climate that sustains it.


One other thing, it's also super good for the economy. The report indicates that in the three states mentioned previously, composting and recycling only half of the core recyclables and food waste yields about $1.6 billion in annual salaries, $818 million in additional goods and $309 million in sales across the West Coast. That's a lot of green cash for a greener, cleaner environment!


So how does it work you ask? Why would diverting these items from the waste cycle decrease GHG emissions? It's simple, actually. When items like food aren't placed in the landfill, the methane gases they produce are not released into the environment in the same manner. Composting such materials will allow these decomposed foods to be absorbed into nutrient rich soil instead.


The same goes for carpet, the most energy intensive of all the materials discussed in the report. Carpets are made from petroleum and natural gas and require a lot of energy to produce. While recycling carpets used to be technologically challenging, it is becoming much easier to do so and is having a positive impact on the environment in the meantime.

The largest reduction by any one source material can actually happen if communities and industry actively promote the recycling of carpet. And it's the same story for all source materials, be they glass, paper or plastic in makeup.


To learn a bit more about GHG emissions and it impact on our environment, check out this news piece on the EPA's greenhouse gas position:

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