Center for American Progress

Our Trash Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Our Trash Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A new CAP issue brief discusses how we can reduce our reliance on landfills and curb greenhouse gas emissions through recycling, composting, and energy-from-waste facilities.

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The United States currently generates 390 million tons of trash per year, or 7 pounds per person per day. Municipal solid waste, or MSW, commonly known as garbage, gets picked up from homes and businesses on a weekly basis and is usually sent straight to a landfill. At the landfill, a hole is dug in the ground and then lined with a man-made liner. As trash begins to fill the hole, methane is emitted as a result of waste being broken down by anaerobic bacteria. Once the landfill is full, it is capped to limit water from seeping into it.

Although many states have the physical space for trash, it is environmentally unsustainable to take garbage and bury it in the ground at landfills, where it decomposes and releases potent greenhouse-gas pollution. What’s more, some trash has to be transported by diesel trucks or trains to landfills several hundred miles away, further exacerbating its pollution footprint. Though garbage is not something we tend to actively think about on a daily basis, specifically as it relates to climate change, the United States must begin developing policies to limit the environmental consequences that result from our generation of garbage.

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