The Link Between Recycling & Climate Change


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On April 9th, 2010, the NC Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance conducted a webinar about the link between recycling and climate change. These are the slides.

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  • We would like everyone to think about linking climate change to recycling for their Earth Day message.
  •   According to many scientists and environmentalists, climate change is occurring at a dangerous pace. Whereas we cannot refute the hard evidence gathered to support this claim, the real debate is whether human activity has played a key role in the rise of Global Warming. With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth century we have relied on the burning of fossil fuels for energy, releasing many harsh chemicals into the atmosphere. The widespread use of automobiles, the extraction of oil for fuel and the burning of refined gas have been a high source of extra carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) in the air. These are commonly known human contributions to the rise of CO 2 and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. What many do not know is that municipal solid waste is also a culprit in the case of climate change, and recycling can help.
  • Every time a new product is made from raw materials, large amounts of energy are consumed. We can think of the role energy plays in the four stages of product development: Extraction of raw materials, the manufacture of these materials into products, product use by consumers, and product disposal. Recycling products help decrease the amount of energy it takes to produce these items.   For example, using recycled aluminum scraps to make aluminum cans uses 95 percent less energy than making aluminum cans from bauxite ore, the raw material used to produce aluminum. Another example is steel, which uses 75 percent less energy to make recycled steel than steel produced from its raw material, iron ore. With the exception of plastic on occasion, recycling uses less energy, which translates to fewer fossil fuels burned and therefore reduces CO 2 in the atmosphere, decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
  • Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Many greenhouse gases are caused naturally, but too much can cause harmful effects on the environment, such as the depletion of the protective ozone layer and climate change. Human activity has increased greenhouse gas emissions primarily in the form of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), methane (CH 4 ), nitrous oxide (N 2 O), and fluorinated gases, producing unhealthy levels.   In 2007, energy-related activities accounted for 86.3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions on a carbon dioxide equivalent basis. 97 percent of CO 2 emissions, 35 percent of methane, and 14 percent of nitrous oxide emissions came from energy production. The energy used to extract raw materials, as well as waste-to-energy incinerators, play a factor in this high percentage of CO 2 emissions.   Another greenhouse gas, 72 times more potent than CO 2 over the course of 20 years, is methane. Landfills are the largest human-made contributor of methane into the atmosphere. When organic waste is disposed of in the trash, it ends up in a landfill with the rest of our non-organic trash. As the landfill is filled and covered, no air can pass through, causing anaerobic conditions. In these conditions, the decomposition of organic waste produces methane within the landfill that needs to be released to relieve pressure buildup.   There are several methods used to decrease landfill methane emissions. One way is through flaring the methane. The gas is channeled through a flare that burns the methane as it is released into the atmosphere, which still generates carbon dioxide, a less potent gas. Another method is capturing methane from the landfill and converting it into energy, but the percentage of methane captured over the life of a landfill can be as low as 20 percent of its emissions.   The best way we can help decrease methane emissions is to compost. We can think of composting as recycling our organic, decomposable and biodegradable waste into nutrient rich soil that can be used to fertilize our yards and gardens. The aerobic nature of composting produces very little methane and will decrease the amount of trash that goes into landfills, thereby decreasing methane emissions while providing more space for other trash.  
  • Climate change may not affect everyone the same way across the globe, but historical and scientific evidence have allowed us to predict its potentially negative impacts, some of which we have already begun to experience. That is why it is important to start acting now in our efforts to reduce climate change, and not wait until the outcome is irreversible. Many people do not realize how climate change can impact us all. Rising temperatures can increase the spread and longevity of some diseases that formerly were not a threat to us. The increased heat may trap more pollutants in the air, creating poorer air quality. Wetlands, beaches and estuaries are sensitive to the rise in sea level, an effect of climate change from glacier and icecap melting. Sea level rise is particularly threatening to North Carolina coasts where coastal erosion puts our barrier islands at risk. Additionally, extreme weather can lead to increasing storm surges and flooding. This change in weather could also provide a higher risk for droughts, floods and heat waves that may present challenges to us, effecting not only our health and water supply, but crop and livestock production. Climate change can affect ecosystems as well, leading to potential extinction of some animals, while others may multiply. Plants, insects and other animals my relocate or expand due to temperature changes, which could be beneficial or pose problems if the species are invasive or they overpopulate. Whether or not these changes are in our immediate presence, it is important to begin thinking about the future. Simply by reducing our waste through increasing recycling practices, we can begin to make a difference. While we have yet to discover the best substitute for oil, or other “green” energy means, we can limit our waste production and energy consumption, and thus limit our contribution to climate change.
  • Lastly, this depicts the layers of a landfill. We have included a methane gas recovery well.
  • Methane, a greenhouse gas is 20 times more potent than CO2, over a one hundred year period and 72 times more potent in a 20 year period Is responsible for almost a quarter of man-made global warming. ~ For the first time in a decade, scientists reported dramatic increases in levels of methane. ~ Sources for methane gas: animal waste, organic/ food waste…. Landfills are the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions in the U.S., and the impact of landfill emissions in the short term is grossly underestimated — methane is 72 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year time frame.
  • Anaerobic Conditions: Microorganism in the absence of oxygen Byproduct: Methane gas Alcohol, phenols
  • Large compactors, compress out air and reduce volume Daily cover to reduce rainwater penetration and daylight
  • Organic (Food) Waste Issues NC generates 800,000 tons food residuals per year Sanitary issues: vermin, odor, smell, liquid… Methane gas related to food waste High cost of CO2 generation related to pickup, transfer and to land fills.
  • Saleable useful product Better environmental sustainability Improved waste handling Pathogen destruction Improved soil quality Improved crop yield, drought resistance and disease suppression … Methane gas related to food waste High cost of CO2 generation related to pickup, transfer and to land fills.
  • I highly recommend that you all read the Stop Trashing the Climate report done by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self Reliance. Then act locally !
  • Elon University surveyed 508 North Carolina residents in February 2010 and asked them about environmental issues. North Carolinians are generally satisfied with the environmental conditions in the state. Forty-five percent of respondents rate environmental conditions good or very good. Water pollution and contamination tops the list of “the most important environmental issue” among North Carolinians with nearly 18 percent indicating it was the most important environmental issue. Air pollution and recycling are next on the list of important environmental issues, with 11 and 9 percent of respondents respectively identifying these issues. As you can see from the slide residents are still unsure of how climate change occurs. 42 percent think it’s exaggerated. This data can be helpful. Even if residents are unsure of climate change, it’s one more benefit to recycling besides job creation, saving natural resources, decreasing landfill space, etc. However, we need to help educate folks about this issue.
  • We have created a number of resources that we want to highlight. You can find all these resources at
  • The web site is broken up into various categories. Recycling saves energy Recycling reduces greenhouse gases Why now? Statistics and Resources. I’m going to focus on statistics and resources.
  • Here is what the Statistics page looks like. On there you will find -
  • 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 is available both as a Web-based calculator and as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet . We have a link to these from our web site.
  • A screen capture of the NERC spreadsheet is shown here. This is another option for calculating your environmental benefits and is linked to our web page. Tab 1 (“About this model”) in the spreadsheet gives you an overview of the calculator, tells you what information it produces, gives step-by-step directions on how to use the spreadsheet, and explains the results you get after entering the data. Tab 2 (“Worksheet 1”) is where you input your data. The spreadsheet automatically calculates the data, so all you have to do is plug in the numbers in the appropriate categories. Note that there are categories for those who collect materials through both single and dual streams. Tab 3 (“Worksheet 2”) shows you the environmental impacts that your data reflects. Tab 4 (“Worksheet 3”) shows the conversion factors. This outlays how the spreadsheet calculates emissions reduction, energy saved, etc. from the tonnage data you entered in Worksheet 1. Tab 5 (“Worksheet 4”) shows the estimated environmental benefits of source reduction, reuse, and recycling. This is the best place to look after inputting your data for the energy impact your recycling had on the environment. Tab 6 (“Worksheet 5”) is the final tab and shows the Fact Sheet outputs.  
  • NC DPPEA partnered with the Carolina Recycling Association, Curbside Value Partnership and Ecoville to create this web site. We imported our annual report tonnage data that we gather from local governments throughout the state into this system. So a resident can now see how many tons of recyclables are collected curbside or through a community drop-off site program. The great thing about Ecoville is that parts of the EPA WARM model are embedded into the system. So a local government can see how many greenhouse gases they reduce due to their recycling efforts. The outputs are like: By recycling a certain amount, the total energy saved was __________ BTUs. This energy savings means that __________ metric tons of carbon and carbon dioxide were prevented from being released into the atmosphere. This energy savings equals the emissions savings of ________ vehicles, ________ barrels of oil, __________ gallons of gasoline, etc. Each model is slightly different. Some take into consideration construction and demolition debris, yard waste, HHW or electronics. The Ecoville model does not take into account C&D while the NERC calculator does. Inclusion or omission of this data can alter your results greatly.
  • Using the data plugged into Ecoville, the top performing counties in North Carolina working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through recycling are listed on the screen. This involves mostly the collection of common household recyclables. As I said, it doesn’t include construction debris, HHW, etc. The type of material collected also affects your ranking. So lots of metal might be weighted more than paper in the model. NC DPPEA is planning to release a full local government ranking on this topic soon. It will be similar to what we do for per capita recycling collection at the end of the fiscal year.
  • Let me quickly review some items that we have created for you to use. We have drafted a couple of news release templates talking about the link between recycling and climate change and composting and climate change. Feel free to complete these and put them in your local paper. We have created a number of fliers for different age groups. Each one is titled “Top 10 ways to reduce waste and climate change”. Feel free to blog these, print them for your Earth Day event, pass them out at the PTA meeting or turn them into Town proclamations. We have a more specific flier titled “Top 10 reasons why climate change is relevant to NC”. We also drafted some radio PSAs at different lengths. The topic is again how recycling decreases climate change and how composting decreases climate change. All of this, along with some new posters have been created. Now let me show off the work of our graphic designer.
  • This graphic again depicts how recycling can save energy.
  • This poster explains how composting can help decrease greenhouse gases.
  • Utilizing a graphic originally created by EPA, we altered it slightly for North Carolina since we do not have many incinerators. We also changed the language so that it would be understood by less technical people. Hopefully the graphic depicts the fact that the waste management stage creates some greenhouse gas emissions but as a hierarchy recycling creates less than composting which creates less than landfilling. And landfilling only has good results of avoided fossil fuel use if the energy is recovered.
  • Lastly, this depicts the layers of a landfill. We have included a methane gas recovery well which we talked about earlier.
  • The Link Between Recycling & Climate Change

    1. 1. The Link Between Recycling and Climate Change How we can help reduce Global Warming through reducing, reusing, and recycling
    2. 2. Agenda <ul><li>Overview of how to link recycling with climate change – Jessica Schwartz, NC DPPEA Communications and Marketing Intern </li></ul><ul><li>Understanding the role of methane gas in climate change – Geof Little, NC Division of Waste Management </li></ul>
    3. 3. Agenda <ul><li>Composting, one more way to combat climate change – Brian Rosa, NC DPPEA Organics Specialist </li></ul><ul><li>Local government resources for linking recycling with climate change – Kelley Dennings, NC DPPEA Education and Outreach Project Manager </li></ul>
    4. 4. The Case of Climate Change <ul><li>Recycling Can… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Save energy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reduce greenhouse gas emissions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Decrease human impact on Global Warming </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Recycling Saves Energy <ul><li>New products made from recycled aluminum use 95% less energy </li></ul><ul><li>Recycled steel products use 75% less energy </li></ul><ul><li>Less energy  fewer fossil fuels burned  reduction of CO 2 (greenhouse gas) emissions into the atmosphere </li></ul>
    6. 6. Recycling Reduces Greenhouse Gases <ul><li>Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and methane, are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere </li></ul><ul><li>Energy-related activities account for the majority of CO 2 emissions </li></ul><ul><li>Landfills account for the largest human-made contribution to methane emissions, a gas 72 times more potent than CO 2 over 20 years </li></ul><ul><li>Composting is the best method to reduce methane buildup in landfills, allowing aerobic conditions to break down organic waste without producing methane </li></ul>db TM -
    7. 7. Why Now? <ul><li>Do not wait until the potential effects are irreversible </li></ul><ul><li>Negative effects can be: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Migration of insect and animal species, potentially introducing new diseases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Extinction or change of species and ecosystems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sea level rise – loss of wildlife, islands, beaches; dangers of flooding and storm surges </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>More extreme weather conditions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Droughts and heat waves, effecting water supply </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>and crops </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Poorer air quality </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Limiting waste production can limit individual </li></ul><ul><li>contribution to climate change </li></ul>
    8. 8. How to link recycling with climate change Understanding the role of methane gas in climate change Geof Little NC DENR, DWM
    9. 9. Landfill Working Face
    10. 11. Landfill Methane Extraction Well
    11. 12. Landfill Methane Extraction Well
    12. 13. Landfill Methane Flare
    13. 14. Questions/Comments From Flickr, Lesather,Greenwich
    14. 15. How to link recycling with climate change Composting – one more way to combat climate change Brian Rosa, Organic Recycling Specialist NC DENR, DPPEA
    15. 16. <ul><li>Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 20 times more potent than CO2, over a one hundred year period and 72 times more potent in a 20 year period. </li></ul><ul><li>Responsible for almost a quarter of man-made global warming. </li></ul><ul><li>For the first time in a decade, scientists reported dramatic increases in levels of methane. ~ Sources for methane gas: animal waste, organic/ food waste…. </li></ul>CO2 vs Methane Gas Emission
    16. 17. <ul><li>Anaerobic Conditions: </li></ul><ul><li>Microorganism in the absence of oxygen </li></ul><ul><li>Byproduct: </li></ul><ul><li>Methane gas </li></ul><ul><li>Alcohol, phenols … </li></ul>Methane & Landfills
    17. 18. <ul><li>Landfills constructed to reduce: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Air (oxygen) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Water </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sunlight </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All necessary components for biodegradation </li></ul>Methane & Landfills Michigan Tech, WUPC, and MDEQ
    18. 19. Organics & Methane <ul><li>Organic (Food) Residuals Issues: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NC generates 800,000 tons food residuals per year </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sanitary issues: vermin, odor, smell, liquid… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Methane gas related to food scraps </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>High cost of CO2 generation related to pickup, transfer and to landfills. </li></ul></ul>Grit
    19. 20. Organic Assessment Feed-stocks & Generation Sources <ul><li>Organic Residuals: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Wherever Food is grown, produced, prepared and served </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Grass clippings, yard trash, brush </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Plus animal waste… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Produce </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fruit </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wineries </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Meat, FOG Bones, Fish, Grease </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cheese </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wood chips </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Food scraps </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Kitchen waste … </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Farm residuals, plant & animal </li></ul></ul>
    20. 21. Organics & Compost <ul><li>The aerobic (oxygen-demanding) decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms under controlled conditions </li></ul><ul><li>Inputs : organic matter, oxygen, moisture </li></ul><ul><li>Outputs: carbon dioxide, heat, water vapor, humus </li></ul>Sustainable Organic Solutions
    21. 22. Organics & Compost <ul><li>Compost Benefits: </li></ul><ul><li>Improved waste handling </li></ul><ul><li>Pathogen destruction </li></ul><ul><li>Saleable useful product </li></ul><ul><li>Replenishes soils organic component </li></ul><ul><li>Nutrients for soil and plants </li></ul><ul><li>Conserves water </li></ul><ul><li>Reduced fertilizers </li></ul><ul><li>Reduced pesticides </li></ul>Green Daily Blog
    22. 23. Stop Trashing the Climate Compost
    23. 24. Questions/Comments From Flickr, Lesather,Greenwich
    24. 25. How to link recycling with climate change Local government resources for linking recycling with climate change Kelley Dennings, Education and Outreach Project Manager NC DENR, DPPEA
    25. 26. What do NC residents think about climate change? <ul><li>Respondents were divided on the causes of climate change: </li></ul><ul><li>Is climate change the result of human activity or of natural patterns in the earth's environment? Result of human activity: 35 percent Result of natural patterns: 44 percent Both: 18 percent </li></ul><ul><li>Are statements about climate change generally exaggerated, underestimated or correct? Generally exaggerated: 42 percent Generally correct: 31 percent Generally underestimated: 21 percent </li></ul>
    26. 27. Resources
    27. 28.
    28. 29. Statistics Page
    29. 30. WARM Model
    30. 31. NERC Model
    31. 32. Ecoville
    32. 33. Top 10 NC Counties – Energy Saved in Million BTUs <ul><li>MECKLENBURG COUNTY 1,008,284 </li></ul><ul><li>GUILFORD COUNTY 833,736 </li></ul><ul><li>WAKE COUNTY 792,794 </li></ul><ul><li>PITT COUNTY 328,001 </li></ul><ul><li>BUNCOMBE COUNTY 304,432 </li></ul><ul><li>FORSYTH COUNTY 279,417 </li></ul><ul><li>ORANGE COUNTY 250,877 </li></ul><ul><li>DARE COUNTY 248,943 </li></ul><ul><li>CRAVEN COUNTY 241,539 </li></ul>
    33. 34. Resources Page
    34. 39. Other DPPEA GHG webinars for facilities <ul><li>May 18, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - GHG Reduction Projects at N.C. Facilities - Successes and Lessons Learned ESI members will present on projects implemented at N.C. facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including Eaton, and EMC2 and Novozymes NA. </li></ul><ul><li>June (date TBD) - Energy Management - A Pathway to GHG Reduction Saving energy can help to reduce indirect greenhouse gas emissions. Energy management systems are one important tool to help you manage your energy savings. Not sure how to pay for your energy reduction projects? Performance contracting can help you install now and pay through the resulting savings over time. Also, N.C. utility companies will discuss current incentive programs to help facilities implement energy saving projects now. </li></ul>
    35. 40. Thank you <ul><li>Kelley Dennings, 919-355-8102 </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Resources – </li></ul><ul><li>Slidedeck - </li></ul><ul><li>*Recording of webinar will be posted soon. </li></ul>