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10 Reasons Why Zero Waste Is a Priority Climate Solution

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In the wake of a historic global commitment at COP21 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s time to get to work on the local level! Keeping emissions below 2°C will require myriad solutions, but we also need to prioritize short-term actions that will pay off quickly for the climate.

Zero Waste is one of the fastest, easiest climate action strategies that communities can implement today to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are the top ten reasons Zero Waste should be a priority solution in your climate action plans:

  1. Big part of the solution.
  2. Easily implemented NOW.
  3. Reduces energy-related emissions.
  4. Cost-effective.
  5. Fast acting.
  6. Pulls down carbon.
  7. Simple, everyday action you can choose to do TODAY.
  8. Drives further innovation.
  9. Serious impact.
  10. Protects our carbon sinks.

Leading communities like Portland, OR have prioritized Zero Waste and consumption emissions into their climate action plan. Already Portland recovers 70% of its discards and is working to reduce waste generation by 30% by 2030, which means you can too. How are they doing it? With proven solutions to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, and by leaning on industry to redesign products and packaging to use fewer resources.

Here’s how Zero Waste helps build climate resilient communities:

  1. Big part of the solution. The way we produce, transport, consume and dispose of all our “stuff” and our food accounts for 42% of U.S. greenhouse (GHG) emissions.
  2. Easily implemented NOW. We know how to recycle and compost most of our stuff already. We don’t have to wait for new technology to develop solutions. What we need is to get every community and business involved.
  3. It reduces energy-related emissions. Recycling saves energy used to make new stuff. That directly reduces carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
  4. Cost-effective. Curbside recycling can reduce more greenhouse gases per dollar spent than energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.ZW and climate
  5. Fast acting. Methane from landfills traps 84 times more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide in the short term. Significantly reducing methane by keeping organics out of the landfill doesn’t just mitigate methane—it PREVENTS methane emissions and has immediate climate benefits.
  6. Pulls down carbon. Composting doesn’t just reduce emissions going up; it can actually pull carbon down and store it in our soil, helping to REVERSE the carbon emission problem. Soil stores more carbon than forests or the atmosphere.
  7. Simple, everyday action you can choose to do TODAY. We’re asking you to separate your materials. It’s a simple choice that’s accessible to everyone—at home, at work, at school and on the go. And it can be a lot easier than not driving your car and cheaper than buying solar panels (though these too are critically important).
  8. Drives further innovation. Creative new programs around reuse and the sharing economy can radically decrease the climate impact of all our “stuff.” By rejecting products designed for the dump, we prompt industry to redesign for better resource efficiency.
  9. Serious impact. Recovering 90% of our discards by 2030 will reduce GHG emissions by the equivalent of closing more than 20% of U.S. coal-fired power plants.
  10. Protects our carbon sinks. Reducing, reusing and recycling can help prevent deforestation and land use changes that account for 25% of global GHG emissions. Instead, we choose to conserve the biosphere to play its important role in pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

Take action

Zero Waste also provides significant environmental and economic benefits, but with all eyes on climate change, it’s time to prioritize Zero Waste as a proven, cost-effective climate solution. By taking action now, we can take a significant chunk out of our climate impact and can buy ourselves the much needed time to address our longer-term challenges around energy and transportation.

Use our new video on the Zero Waste Climate Solution to start the conversation in your community and find more resources to make Zero Waste a priority in your community climate action plan.

climate video


This blog was originally developed for the Northeast Recycling Council. 

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