Environmental Benefits Fact Sheet
Source Reduction, Reuse,1 & Recycling2
An Overview for 20073
© April 2009
Most people are aware that source reduction, reuse, and recycling decreases reliance on landfills, incinerators, and waste-to-energy facilities. These waste reduction strategies are also critical for protecting the global environment. By reducing the need for "virgin" resources extracted from forests, oil reserves, and mines, we use less energy, reduce greenhouse gases, water pollution, and conserve natural resources.
Using less energy decreases greenhouse gas emissions because the majority of consumed energy in the United States relies on fossil fuels (i.e., gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and coal). Fossil fuels are the most significant source of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. Energy conservation also minimizes the need for energy development and production, which are also responsible for significant environmental impacts.
Source reduction, reuse, and recycling also keep materials out of landfills, incinerators and waste-to-energy facilities, where water and air contamination can result from leachate, air emissions, and ash residue.
By contrast, the steps required to supply recycled materials to industry (i.e., collection, processing, and transportation) uses less energy than the steps in supplying virgin materials (i.e., extraction, refining, processing, and transportation). The majority of the energy savings associated with the use of recycled content materials in manufacturing is the result of avoided processing, because recycled materials have already been processed at least once.
NERC’s Environmental Benefits Calculator generates estimates of the environmental benefits of Vermont, based on the tonnages of materials that were source reduced, reused, recycled, landfilled, or incinerated (includes waste-to-energy). The Calculator is based on per ton figures of the estimated energy use and emissions from several lifecycle analysis studies. The Calculator tailors the results to the amount of materials source reduced, reused, and recycled, as well as the current mix of landfilling, incineration/waste-to-energy in Vermont. This Fact Sheet summarizes some of the results from the Calculator specific to Vermont.
Vermont’s municipal and commercial recycling programs collected and supplied 206,648.0 tons of scrap commodities such as paper, glass, metals, plastics, wood, computers, and construction & demolition (C&D) materials for use in the production of new products.
- Vermont’s recycling provided industry with an environmentally preferable source of materials.
- Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by Vermont source reduction, reuse, and recycling.
Vermont source reduction, reuse, and recycling reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 154,356.28 metric tons of carbon equivalents (MTCE)4 in a one year period. This is equivalent to approximately 94.33% of all industrial MTCE emissions generated from fossil fuel combustion in Vermont and 6.9 % of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxides (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Curbside recycling alone accounted for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 124,271.53 MTCE per year.
- Vermont’s source reduction, reuse, and recycling saved energy.
Vermont’s source reduction, reuse, and recycling saved a total of 4,038,939.31 Million BTUs of energy, equal to 13.33% of all energy used by industry in Vermont. This is equivalent to 32,509,668.65 gallons of gasoline. It represents the amount of energy that would be required to power 39,481.32 homes for one year in the United States. Curbside recycling alone saved 2,701,464.94 Million BTUs of energy.
- Vermont’s recycling conserved natural resources.
By recycling 35,240.0 tons of scrap metal and glass in 2007, Vermont’s recycling efforts reduced the need for virgin materials, including 2,114.4 tons of limestone, 44,050.0 tons of iron ore, 24,668.0 tons of coal, 0.0 tons of sand, 0.0 tons of soda ash, and 0.0 tons of feldspar.
Recycling 92,986.0 tons of newspapers, phone books, office paper, textbooks, magazines and cardboard in 2007, resulted in forest carbon sequestration benefits equal to 0.0 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. Recycling 92,986.0 tons of all types of paper saved 306,853.8 cubic yards of landfill space.
All data reported in this Fact Sheet was calculated by the NERC Environmental Benefits Calculator, 2007. For more detail about the specific environmental benefits attributable to source reduction, reuse, and recycling in Vermont and for NERC’s free downloadable Calculator, go to http://www.nerc.org/topic_areas/environmental_benefits_calculator.html.
1 Source reduction and reuse are defined as activities that reduce the need for the production of virgin materials. Examples of source reduction and reuse are light-weighting (e.g. using 25 percent less aluminum to produce the same product), the reuse of a material (e.g. dismantling a building and reusing the 2x4 studs in a new structure). Other examples include book swaps and computer donations (assumes that new books and new computers would have been needed without these actions). For the purpose of measuring the environmental impacts of these activities, source reduction and reuse are used interchangeably.
2 Recycling is defined as the use of scrap or waste material used in place of virgin inputs in the manufacturing process. When a Calculator user indicates that they are “recycling” they are referring to the act of setting the scrap or waste material aside for use in the manufacturing process. Furthermore, when Calculator users indicate that they are "recycling" materials like yard trimmings, food scraps, mixed organics, etc, U.S. EPA calculates the benefit of composting.
3 The most recent data provided by the state environmental agency.
4 Metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE) is a unit of measurement that expresses the heat-trapping effects of various greenhouse gas emissions. Another unit of measure sometimes used is metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2). Source: U.S. EPA (2006) User’s Guide for WARM: Calculating Greenhouse Gas Emissions with the WAste Reduction Model. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/waste/calculators/Warm_UsersGuide.html.