The “end of the pipe” is only the tip of the iceberg: Waste sector considerations for climate action planning

The “end of the pipe” is only the tip of the iceberg: Waste sector considerations for climate action planning

When compared to the other contributing factors in the Regional Climate Action Plan’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory, you might think that the waste sector is pretty insignificant. A three percent slice of the pie seems paltry compared to the building and transportation sectors which collectively make up 95 percent of GHG emissions. Similarly, strategies for achieving the region’s net zero vision that are associated with the waste sector do not indicate a high potential for GHG reduction.

However, this inventory (and associated action strategies illustrated below) are only considering the GHG emissions that are generated at the end of a product’s life—in other words when the product becomes waste. Waste buried in local landfills (i.e. the “end of the pipe“) represents a small fraction of the overall waste associated with the product consumption. Diverting waste from landfills has a ripple effect more important than the graphs below suggest.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector
Breakdown of CO₂e reduction by action area

The tip of the iceberg

It’s important to remember that the emissions generated from waste disposal into landfills represent only one stage of that product’s life cycle. Waste and resulting emissions can occur at all stages of the life cycle, from resource extraction, farming, manufacturing, processing, transportation, sale and use. And these life cycles can be altered by recycling, reuse and other waste diversion actions.

For every ton of municipal discards wasted downstream,
about 70 tons of waste is produced upstream.

It has been estimated that more than 70 tons of waste are generated upstream for every ton of consumer waste that is landfilled locally. Much of this upstream waste (and associated GHG emissions) is generated outside of the Kansas City metro and produced in other states or nations, in the production and shipping stages. These upstream wastes and emissions are not included in the regional GHG inventory but represent the greatest potential for GHG reductions.

What can I do?

Because greenhouse emission from waste begins when products are made (and continue with shipping, storage, use, and end-of-life management) the biggest way to reduce these emissions is to not create waste in the first place. There are simple actions you can take to reduce the amount of waste you create as an individual. Follow on Facebook to get daily waste reduction tips.

Your workplace has a significant role to play too. By joining Recycle More At Work, your organization will gain an understanding of the waste it currently creates, and be provided strategies for implementing both short- and long-term waste reduction solutions including Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP).

For more information, visit EPA’s Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products & Services.