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The more plastic we make, the more fossil fuels we need, the more we exacerbate climate change

WWF Australia

WASTE & CLIMATE CHANGE

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The manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal of pretty much any product we consume generates carbon emissions. This applies to things made of plastic, paper,  food, metal and all other materials. 

 

As every stage of a product’s lifecycle can contribute to climate change, we advocate for reducing and reusing what we can in the first instance.

By identifying carbon neutral solutions and shifting to more sustainable options, we can significantly reduce how much we individually contribute to climate change.  

But not all things are created equal and it pays to focus on the items with the biggest footprint.

We're putting the spotlight on two of most damaging waste streams - plastic and food waste: 

 

PLASTIC AND CLIMATE CHANGE

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The more plastic we make, the more fossil fuels we need, the more we exacerbate climate change.

WWF Australia

Plastic is a big climate change contributor. Traditional plastic originates from fossil fuels and emits billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases along every step of its lifecycle - from extraction, transport, manufacturing to eventual disposal. 

 

But the impact of plastic on our climate doesn’t stop there.

 

A lesser known, yet significant problem is found underwater. Traditionally, our oceans have served as the world’s largest natural carbon sink. Yet, as plastic enters our oceans, it leaves a deadly legacy. Sunlight and heat cause plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, leading to an alarming feedback loop.

As our climate changes, the planet gets hotter, the plastic breaks down into more methane and ethylene, increasing the rate of climate change, and so perpetuating the cycle [1].

95% of plastic used is discarded after a single-use [1].  We need to rethink our use of disposable plastics. The only way to tackle plastic emissions is to reduce the amount of single-use plastic, embrace reusables and shift to a circular economy. 

READ MORE

The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet (May 2019) released by the Center for International Environmental Law, a non-profit environmental law organisation.

FOOD WASTE & CLIMATE CHANGE

Every single spoon full of food you throw out is not just a waste of your hard earned money, it also unnecessarily wastes energy and water used to grow, harvest, package and distribute it. 

In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions [1]. 

What’s more, food rotting in landfill produces methane - a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. This can be avoided when food is sent to compost instead!  

It’s important to note that not all food is created equal when it comes to carbon emissions. Locally grown food and vegetables have a much lower carbon footprint than meat, dairy and imported goods.

 

So reducing the amount of wasted meat or grapes grown in the US for example will reduce your footprint much more than reducing the amount of wasted homegrown lettuce.

Thankfully, there are many other simple steps we can take at a household, community and business level to reduce food waste and save thousands of dollars every year.

 

It takes a bit of effort to form new habits, but a few changes will have a real impact on the planet and your wallet. 

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If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.

FAO, Food Wastage Footprint report, 2013.

 
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REDUCING THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF YOUR WASTE

  • Eliminate methane emissions: In some countries, like Denmark, sending organic waste to landfill is already banned. By sending organic waste to compost instead of landfill, you’ll prevent methane from being released into the atmosphere when food decomposes. It’s a double-win as you’re also contributing compost to support our local farms and gardens. Project Drawdown, a research organisation that identifies potential solutions to climate change, estimates that if composting levels worldwide increased, we could reduce emissions by 2.1 billion tonnes by 2050

  • Buy recycled goods and packaging: considering the entire lifecycle of a product, the production of goods from recycled materials often requires less energy than using virgin materials. The good news is that more and more recycled products are entering the market!

  • Eliminating emissions from landfill and incinerators: before you buy something new, think about where it ends up when you’re done with it. Diverting materials from landfill and incinerators drastically reduces emission. Prioritise things that can be reused and eventually recycled. 

  • Go paper free: Like our oceans, trees take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By reducing your paper use and committing to using only recycled paper, you’ll leave more trees standing and support carbon sequestration.