Recycling and Climate Change

Reducing waste, recycling and composting are effective ways to decrease the generation of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane. They achieves these benefits in two ways:

  1. by helping save energy in the processing of materials for industrial and consumer use, and
  2. by reducing the flow of materials -- especially food and other organic wastes -- into landfills where anaerobic decomposition produces methane.

The U.S. EPA has provided the WARM Model to help community recycling programs and the public calculate the potential greenhouse gas savings from the reduction, recycling and composting of discarded materials – see: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/waste/calculators/Warm_home.html


In addition, the Northeast Recycling Council provides an online tool for calculating overall environmental benefits from recycling – see the NERC model spreadsheet.


Details on How Recycling Saves Energy is provided below, including access to graphics that help illustrate the beneficial energy-saving effects of recycling. Please also see Additional Resources that provides tools and information on recycling and greenhouse gases, as well as the impact of climate change on the environment and on North Carolina.


Please also see EPA Region 4’s fact sheet on the role that waste reduction and recycling plays in climate change: EPA Climate Change Fact Sheet


Recycling Materials Saves Energy

Download 11 x 17 <a target="_blank" class="icon-pdf" href="/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=7b4190f0-9c8f-4006-812a-74cd2358ce6a&groupId=38322">[PDF]</a> or <a target="_blank" class="icon-img" href="/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=1a97fa20-8573-4f1b-8af8-e285709696b1&groupId=38322">[JPG]</a>.Every time a new product is made from raw materials, large amounts of energy are consumed. We can think of the role energy plays in the four stages of product development: extraction of raw materials, the manufacture of these materials into products, product use by consumers and product disposal.In most cases, recycling uses less energy, which translates into fewer fossil fuels burned and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. For facts about the amount of energy saved through the recycling of various materials, see Energy Saving Statistics from RE3.org.

Recycling of metals can be a particularly powerful way to save energy. For example, using recycled aluminum scraps to make aluminum cans takes 95 percent less energy than making aluminum cans from bauxite ore, the raw material used to produce aluminum. Another example is steel - it takes 75 percent less energy to make recycled steel than steel produced from its raw material, iron ore.

Additional Resources

Print Media for Local Government Use

  • Recycling Saves Energy (11 x 17 PDF or JPG) Poster
  • Composting and the Environment (11 x 17 PDF or JPG) Poster
  • Waste and Its Link to Greenhouse Gas Emissions (11 x 17 PDF or JPG) Poster
  • Landfill Diagram (8.5 x 11  PDF) Poster 

Outreach Materials

Greenhouse Gas References and Links