What Does Waste Have To Do With Climate Science?
When we look at a bin full of waste we see the stuff, the rubbish. Maybe we see a pile of old furniture on the verge, a bag full of bottles and coffee cups in the food court, or a skip on a driveway stacked with ripped out plasterboard and an old sink.
What we don’t see is the energy and resources that went into making the products we buy and ultimately throw away. Everything we buy started out life as a resource: mined minerals/metals, farmed vegetation, extracted oil. The original resources have been extracted, treated with chemicals and had other materials added to them until they form the product. The materials collectively may have travelled many thousands of kilometres around the world at each stage in the process until they were packaged and transported to a shop or warehouse and then to your home.
All of the extraction, processing, manufacturing and transport uses energy. Often, a LOT of energy. According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 45% of global emissions relate to the production of consumer goods.
When we throw those resources into landfill, we throw away both the resources and the embodied energy.
The climate impact story doesn’t stop with lost energy and resources. When organic matter (food, paper, fabrics, etc.) break down in the absence of air, the ‘anaerobic decomposition’ creates a gas that is rich in methane. Methane gas has over 25 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide. In fact, food waste is identified by the United Nations as a key factor contributing to climate change.
Solving waste problems is more than just litter and landfills. Tackling waste at source is a major part of the solution to the climate crisis.