Published: March 18, 2021 By

As both climate change and waste are ever growing problems around the world, it is of great importance to understand how these two major issues are also affecting each other. Recycling is beneficial to the climate crisis in two main ways: by limiting the amount of raw materials being used and limiting the amount of waste going into landfills. Project Drawdown estimates that recycling between 2020 and 2050 will reduce emissions by 5.5-6.02  gigatons of carbon dioxide (equivalent to taking over 1 billion cars off the streets for one year). That is a major reduction from a simple lifestyle change, which makes recycling an effective, yet easy change to make to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and help limit the climate crisis.

Impact of Landfills

  • When things are thrown in the landfill, they decompose anaerobically 

  • This anaerobic decomposition causes landfills to emit a lot of methane

  • Methane is a greenhouse has that 34  times as potent as carbon dioxide, meaning it has 34 times the warming potential that an equal amount of carbon dioxide has 

  • Landfills alone in the United States are the third largest emitters of methane     

  • Because of this, it is especially important to make sure that you are throwing as little as possible into the garbage, and working on recycling and composting more.

Raw Materials

  • Currently, 4-8%  of total oil consumption goes toward creating plastics

  • If our current trajectory in plastic use persists, plastics will account for 20% of oil consumption by 2050 

  • Not only are oil and gas some of the actual components of plastics, but they are also heavily used in the creation and transportation of plastics

  • The extraction of raw materials uses greenhouse gases for the physical extraction along with the transportation of the raw materials to manufacturing facilities (likely powered by fossil fuels) which can actually process the raw materials into a usable product. That product then must be transported around the world to be distributed, again likely using fossil fuels, thus emitted more greenhouse gases.


  • When an item is recycled, it is processed and turned into something new, rather than either creating something out of virgin material, or having the item that is being disposed of be treated as waste in a landfill 

  • Recycling with the purpose of creating something new generally uses less energy than creating a product from raw materials 

  • Recycling aluminum is especially energy efficient. Using aluminum scraps to make aluminum cans saves 95% the amount of energy that would be used to make an aluminum can from raw materials. Producing 40 aluminum cans requires the amount of energy in one gallon  of gasoline, this can be significantly decreased by using recycled aluminum scraps. 

  • The less energy used to produce a good, the fewer greenhouse gases are emitted in the process. This is excellent for climate change, as greenhouse gas emissions are driving factors in the current climate crisis. 

What Can You Do?

  • Buy products made from recycled materials! This will support the market for recycled items, and encourage the continued recycling of materials and production of items made from recycled materials 

  • Recycle everything that you can! Learn exactly what is recyclable and be sure to recycle everything that is. 

  • Limit the amount of disposable items you are purchasing in the first place in order to reduce production of disposable items.

  • Swap out disposable items for reusable items!