NOVEMBER 2009

Recycling and land reuse practices can fight climate change

There is much potential to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gases through recycling, waste reduction, smart growth, and by reusing formerly contaminated sites including brownfields.

EPA’s report “Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices” finds that 42 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by materials management policies. This includes the impacts from extracting raw materials, food processing, and manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of products.

Another 16 to 20 percent of emissions are associated with land management policies. That includes emissions from passenger transportation, construction, and from lost vegetation when greenfields are cleared for development. In addition, the equivalent of 13 percent of emissions is absorbed by soil and vegetation and can also be protected or enhanced through land management policies.

Some of the materials and land management activities that have the potential to decrease emissions include:

  • Reducing the use of non-packaging paper products;
  • Increasing municipal recycling, and recycling of construction and demolition debris;
  • Reusing land, including redevelopment of formerly contaminated lands;
  • Reusing formerly contaminated lands for renewable energy development;
  • Encouraging smart growth.

The report suggests that land management and materials management approaches should be part of the nation’s toolbox to meet the target of an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.