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Materials, Waste and Global Warming
According to the US EPA, approximately 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originating in the United States are associated with the management of materials. Production/manufacturing contributes the most (33 percent), followed by transportation of goods (7 percent) and end-of-life management (two percent). These estimates don’t include the emissions associated with producing products and materials that we import from other countries. So clearly, how much we produce and consume, what materials and products we use, how and where they’re made, how they’re transported, and how we manage our discards, all impact climate change.
The Environmental Quality Commission has adopted Materials
Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action. The 2050
Vision addresses reductions in environmental impacts – including but
not limited to greenhouse gases – across the full life cycle of
materials, from resource extraction and manufacturing through
consumption and use to recycling and disposal.
Waste prevention and recycling help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a typical year, recycling in Oregon reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 500,000 – 700,000 cars. Most of these emissions reductions occur “upstream” when manufacturers use recycled wastes instead of virgin materials to make new products. Recycling also helps to reduce “downstream” greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, although this benefit is smaller than the “upstream” reductions.
Even more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions is waste prevention, the “reduce, reuse” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” DEQ’s Waste Prevention Strategy includes several projects that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Consumption-based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Oregon
Oregon residents and businesses contribute to emissions of greenhouse gases in many ways. For many years, Oregon has conducted an “inventory” of emissions. Like other states, Oregon has focused its inventory primarily on emissions that originate in-state. But that focus only tells part of the story of how Oregon contributes to climate change. When it comes to materials, it focuses on emissions from in-state manufacturing but leaves out many of the emissions associated with materials that are imported for use in Oregon.
A new inventory study commissioned by DEQ supplements the traditional inventory approach. It estimates the emissions – both in-state and elsewhere - associated with consumption by Oregon residents, businesses and governments. More than half of these consumption-based emissions occur in other states or nations. Somewhere between 35 and 48 percent of Oregon’s consumption-based greenhouse emissions are a result of consumption of materials.
Oregon Global Warming Commission: Roadmap to 2020
In 2010, the Oregon Global Warming Commission began a process to identify actions Oregon and others could take to achieve the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals for 2020. The product of this effort is the Commission’s “Roadmap to 2020”. DEQ helped to staff a Roadmap committee which developed a series of recommendations involving materials and waste. These recommendations were revised and adopted by the Commission and are included in its Roadmap to 2020.
Governor's Advisory Group on Global Warming
Like the Global Warming Commission, Governor Kulongoski’s Advisory Group on Global Warming (2004) was charged with recommending actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This Advisory Group was supported by seven technical subcommittees that identified and evaluated alternatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. DEQ’s Solid Waste Program staffed the Technical Subcommittee on Materials and Waste.
The Technical Subcommittee on Materials and Waste produced two documents. The first is a “briefing paper” that explains the relationship between materials, waste, and greenhouse gases and discusses some of the related accounting issues. The second provides a preliminary evaluation of specific policy and program alternatives to reduce greenhouse gases through waste prevention, recycling, composting, reduced garbage burning, and landfill gas controls.
The Oregon Strategy for Greenhouse Gas Reductions provides more information, including the Advisory Group’s recommendations.
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