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The Effects of Waste on Your Carbon Footprint

Why Waste Matters and How to Reduce It

In recent years, the term “carbon footprint” has become a buzzword. Defined as the amount of greenhouse gasses any person, organisation, or activity releases into the atmosphere – it’s one of the tools for understanding the impact we have on the world around us.

When you think of carbon footprints, you may think of the big emitters – fossil fuel companies, agriculture, and transport. But where does waste fit into the global carbon emissions and will diverting waste from landfills truly have an impact on your organisation’s carbon footprint?

Landfill Gas Emissions

The Global Methane Initiative estimates that in 2020, solid waste emissions made up 11% of all global emissions. While there are still bigger industries that emit more CO2, waste emissions mainly come from methane – a greenhouse gas that’s 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period.

This gas is released as materials slowly decompose anaerobically in the landfill. The main culprit of this is organic waste – food, paper, and other natural materials – that can’t properly break down without oxygen. While methane does evaporate quicker in the atmosphere than CO2, it does a lot of damage in the shorter term.

In fact, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, “cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming.” Therefore, reducing our overall waste can have a big impact. While it won’t eliminate emissions overall, it can help bring us to a more emissions-neutral place to prevent further damage.

Other Emissions in Waste

While waste disposal is the main concern of waste emissions overall, there are other emission considerations in the waste process. One source of emissions is the carbon that is used to create or grow products in the first place. If those products are only used once, or the food is never eaten, then the carbon is emitted needlessly. That’s why it’s important to reduce waste in the first place and only buy and use what you need.

In addition, carbon dioxide is released at a number of points in the waste collection process, adding to the carbon footprint of waste. One point of carbon emissions is in the collection and transportation of waste. Most waste is still transported in petrol-powered vehicles, which emit huge amounts of carbon every day.

Another point of carbon emissions is the incineration of waste materials. Waste is sometimes burned to make room in the landfill as it fills up, or as a way to generate energy. This is not something that happens everywhere, but it is often done in places like Singapore, Sweden, Australia, and parts of the US where burning waste is used as an energy source in a process called waste-to-energy. However, while waste-to-energy does create power for communities, it still releases more carbon dioxide than fossil fuel power stations. There are better ways to generate energy and reducing waste in the first place is better than burning it for energy.

What can businesses do to minimise the impact of emissions through waste systems?

Reduce Overall Waste

Everything we waste took carbon to extract, manufacture, and ship, so to use it only once hardly seems worth its carbon emissions. The best thing any organisation can do is to reduce the number of materials and waste generated in the first place. This includes decreasing what comes in by providing circular alternatives to your employees, such as having takeaway bowls and coffee cups available for use. You can even challenge your company to go zero waste.

Add an Organics Bin

Food waste is responsible for 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. By adding an organics bin and collecting food scraps for a composting facility, your organisation can reduce your overall carbon footprint.

Implement a Recycling System

Additionally, setting up a successful recycling system and ensuring as much waste is diverted as possible can greatly impact how much your organisation has to send to the landfill. Along with that, materials that are recycled into new products have significantly reduced carbon emissions when compared to extracting materials for new products.

Educating Your Team

Having a recycling system in place is only half the battle of any organisation. The second half is ensuring that staff are educated on the impacts of recycling and understand exactly what waste goes where in order to avoid contamination that might result in your recyclables ending up in the landfill.

Engage in Sustainable Procurement Practices

As mentioned above, recycled materials have significantly reduced carbon emissions over new products. In order to embrace larger sustainable action at your organisation, consider setting up a sustainable procurement policy that prioritises recycled or reclaimed materials over new ones. This can help your business further decrease its carbon footprint.

Provide End-of-Life Solutions for your Products

If your organisation produces goods for businesses or consumers, it’s crucial to consider the emissions from those items and embrace product stewardship. Product stewardship means being accountable for what you produce and the impact it has on the world. By offering end-of-life solutions for your products, you can help prevent them from going to the landfill and releasing more emissions.


Reducing waste won’t stop all the global emissions that are wreaking havoc in the atmosphere, but it can have a noticeable impact. As individuals we are limited, but within a larger organisation, our impact grows. That’s why practising waste diversion is a great way to lower your organisation’s carbon footprint. When it comes to waste, carbon is only one piece of the puzzle. There are many reasons to reduce waste, not just related to carbon emissions. To learn more about why we should recycle, check out our Recycling 101 series.

Ready to reduce waste and emissions in your workplace?

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