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J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2002 Sep;52(9):1000-11.

The impact of municipal solid waste management on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

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Center for Environmental Analysis, RTI, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.


Technological advancements, environmental regulations, and emphasis on resource conservation and recovery have greatly reduced the environmental impacts of municipal solid waste (MSW) management, including emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). This study was conducted using a life-cycle methodology to track changes in GHG emissions during the past 25 years from the management of MSW in the United States. For the baseline year of 1974, MSW management consisted of limited recycling, combustion without energy recovery, and landfilling without gas collection or control. This was compared with data for 1980, 1990, and 1997, accounting for changes in MSW quantity, composition, management practices, and technology. Over time, the United States has moved toward increased recycling, composting, combustion (with energy recovery) and landfilling with gas recovery, control, and utilization. These changes were accounted for with historical data on MSW composition, quantities, management practices, and technological changes. Included in the analysis were the benefits of materials recycling and energy recovery to the extent that these displace virgin raw materials and fossil fuel electricity production, respectively. Carbon sinks associated with MSW management also were addressed. The results indicate that the MSW management actions taken by U.S. communities have significantly reduced potential GHG emissions despite an almost 2-fold increase in waste generation. GHG emissions from MSW management were estimated to be 36 million metric tons carbon equivalents (MMTCE) in 1974 and 8 MMTCE in 1997. If MSW were being managed today as it was in 1974, GHG emissions would be approximately 60 MMTCE.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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