Composting in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Most people are aware that recycling decreases our reliance on landfills, incinerators and waste-to-energy facilities. This waste reduction strategy is 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.
Reducing energy use 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.
Recycling also keeps 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 Massachusetts, based on the tonnages of materials that were 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 recycled; as well as the current mix of landfilling, incineration/waste-to-energy in Massachusetts. This Fact Sheet summarizes some of the results from the Calculator specific to Massachusetts.
Massachusetts’s recycling provided industry with an environmentally preferable source of materials.
Massachusetts’s municipal and commercial recycling programs collected and supplied 6,715,671 tons of scrap commodities such as paper, glass, metals, plastics, computers, and construction & demolition (C&D) materials for use in the production of new products.
Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by Massachusetts recycling.
Massachusetts recycling reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,073,814 metric tons of carbon equivalents (MTCE)3 in a one year period. This is equivalent to approximately 104% of all industrial MTCE emissions generated from fossil fuel combustion in Massachusetts and 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 1,093,959 MTCE per year.
Massachusetts’s recycling saved energy.
Massachusetts’s recycling saved a total of 85,146,285 Million BTUs of energy, equal to 32% of all energy used by industry in Massachusetts. This is equivalent to 685,347,637 gallons of gasoline. It represents the amount of energy that would be required to power 820,292 homes for one year in Massachusetts. Curbside recycling alone saved 28,606,312 Million BTUs of energy.
Massachusetts’s recycling conserved natural resources.
By recycling 1,205,311 tons of scrap metal and glass in 2004, Massachusetts’s recycling efforts reduced the need for virgin materials, including 130,171 tons of limestone, 946,709 tons of iron ore, 530,157 tons of coal, 289,861 tons of sand, 91,418 tons of soda ash, and 35,675 tons of feldspar. Recycling 1,098,776 tons of all types of paper saved 3,625,961 cubic yards of landfill space.
All data reported in this Fact Sheet was calculated from the NERC Environmental Benefits Calculator, 2004. For more detail about the specific environmental benefits attributable to source reduction, reuse, and recycling in Massachusetts and for NERC’s free downloadable Calculator, see http://www.nerc.org/.