IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

10.4.5 Waste reduction, re-use and recycling

Quantifying the GHG-reduction benefits of waste minimization, recycling and re-use requires the application of LCA tools (Smith et al., 2001). Recycling reduces GHG emissions through lower energy demand for production (avoided fossil fuel) and by substitution of recycled feedstocks for virgin materials. Efficient use of materials also reduces waste. Material efficiency can be defined as a reduction in primary materials for a particular purpose, such as packaging or construction, with no negative impact on existing human activities. At several stages in the life cycle of a product, material efficiency can be increased by more efficient design, material substitution, product recycling, material recycling and quality cascading (use of recycled material for a secondary product with lower quality demands). Both material recycling and quality cascading occur in many countries at large scale for metals recovery (steel, aluminium) and recycling of paper, plastics and wood. All these measures lead to indirect energy savings, reductions in GHG emissions, and avoidance of GHG generation. This is especially true for products resulting from energy-intensive production processes such as metals, glass, plastic and paper (Tuhkanen et al., 2001).

The magnitude of avoided GHG-emissions benefits from recycling is highly dependent on the specific materials involved, the recovery rates for those materials, the local options for managing materials, and (for energy offsets) the specific fossil fuel avoided (Smith et al., 2001). Therefore, existing studies are often not comparable with respect to the assumptions and calculations employed. Nevertheless, virtually all developed countries have implemented comprehensive national, regional or local recycling programmes. For example, Smith et al. (2001) thoroughly addressed the GHG-emission benefits from recycling across the EU, and Pimenteira et al. (2004) quantified GHG emission reductions from recycling in Brazil.