California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Climate Change and Solid Waste Management

Climate Change Overview

Caring for the environment is an integral part of the mission of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). We are ensuring the State reduces waste so that we all leave a smaller environmental footprint. Our actions today provide the foundation for securing and conserving the quality of our environment for generations to come.

Indicators

Today there is growing concern about climate change and global warming and how it could impact our environment and our lives. In California and throughout western North America, signs of a changing climate are evident. Over the last 50 years, winters and springs have been getting warmer, and more precipitation has been falling as rain instead of snow. Less snow has been accumulating in the mountains, flowers have been blooming earlier, and snowmelt has been coming 5 to 30 days earlier in the spring.

These regional changes are consistent with broader global changes. From 1900 through 1970, the average global temperature rose by about 0.1°F (0.06°C) per decade. Since then, the rate of warming has increased markedly, to about 0.5°F (0.3°C) per decade. Going back 1,000 years, observations suggest that the 10 warmest years all occurred after 1990. Much of the warming during the last four decades is due to the increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases released by human activities.

Addressing the Issue

There is a strong and direct connection between waste reduction and recycling, and the reduction of greenhouse gases. CalRecycle is focusing its efforts on landfill gas capture and increased recycling as part of the state’s commitment to fight climate change.

CalRecycle partnered with the Climate Action Team and Air Resources Board to develop measures included in the AB32 Scoping Plan to reduce green house gases. These measures include landfill methane control, increasing landfill methane capture efficiency and several actions included in High Recycling/Zero Waste.

Every stage of a product’s life cycle – extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal–directly or indirectly contributes to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and affects the global climate. Waste prevention allows us to use resources more efficiently, and making products from recycled materials requires less energy.

By avoiding the extraction of virgin materials and using more efficient manufacturing processes, we can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. The most significant benefit arises for eliminating the virgin material extraction. With recycling, we are “mining” old products instead of the earth where the extraction phase is amazingly resource intensive. Recycled material feedstock is essentially a raw material that can go into a “conventional” manufacturing process. That is why recycling comes out ahead, even when one considers the additional end of life processing.

Diversion of organic materials from landfills is also proven to lower greenhouse gas emissions, by reducing the emission of landfill gas, which is comprised of approximately 50% methane – a potent greenhouse gas. In other words, less waste in the landfill means fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Last updated: September 2, 2011
Climate Change: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Climate/
Contact: climatechange@calrecycle.ca.gov