Waste and climate change
Waste and climate change may seem like separate issues, but they are actually very closely linked.
Waste is a clear indicator of how much of our natural resources we’re using. The cheaper and more abundant our resources, the more we use them and the more we feel we can afford to waste. Not only is climate change a clear symptom of our over-consumption, it is also a result of our extreme levels of resource use. The two major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane - are also a byproduct of the waste we create.
Carbon dioxide is the most abundant of these greenhouse gases and is produced when we burn fossil fuels to generate energy. We use this energy to heat our houses, mine and extract natural resources, manufacture goods and products and transport them. These products then end up in landfill.
Wasting things means using energy to replace them. For example, when we dump aluminium cans in landfill, we have to make new cans from raw materials. This uses large amounts of energy and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. The alternative, making new cans from recycled cans, only requires 5 percent as much energy.
Methane, the other major greenhouse gas, is the major concern of the waste industry. Methane is generated from the breakdown of organic matter such as food scraps, garden organics, wood and paper in landfill. This is the majority of mixed solid waste from Australian households. Methane is at least 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which significantly adds to the greenhouse effect causing climate change.
Methane from solid waste accounted for 86.5 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector in 2005-07.
In 2005, emissions from landfill (including solid waste disposal, wastewater treatment and incineration processes) accounted for approximately 3 percent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.