When something is thrown away before it has been used until its end-of-life, a whole process of manufacturing and material has been almost for nothing. The waste sector causes 4-5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Only in the past 10 years, the time that we use things like clothes and electronics has become shorter and shorter. For example, the planned lifespan of an iPhone is just 3 years, and they often break long before that. In year 2000, mobile phones like the Nokia 3310 were known to be indestructible! Often consumers don’t see sources of waste directly. Take clothes, for example: every time a piece of clothing arrives in a store, it is packed in a plastic bag that is then thrown away.
Another significant source of waste is food. The carbon footprint of agriculture is significantly higher than it should be, since we grow a lot of food that is packed, shipped and refrigerated just to be thrown away instead of eaten. Consumers at home account for almost 40% of the carbon footprint of food waste, although much food is wasted in agriculture, manufacturing and shipping. The impact of the consumer is so high, because a finished product always has a higher carbon footprint than just the raw materials. All those resources have already been used for shipping, packaging and refrigerating that one yoghurt you threw away last week. The average European causes 680 kg of carbon emissions from the food thrown away during one year. That is more than a round trip flight within Europe.
You have probably heard the mantra to “reduce, reuse, recycle”. In practice, this can mean buying good quality things that last long, repairing things instead of buying new ones, and sorting your waste into recycling bins. Recycling uses some resources as big trucks need to pick up the recyclable goods, and they need to be shipped for reprocessing which uses energy. Recycling is however a much better option than landfill, because landfills produce the strong greenhouse gas methane. As much as 95% of all waste management greenhouse gas emissions are related to landfill! Things rotting in imperfect conditions in landfills are in this way serious contributors to climate change. Food waste should not go to landfill, since composts releases significantly smaller amounts of greenhouse gases. Alternatively, food waste can be used to produce biogas. Modern waste incineration where the fumes can be filtered and the heat can be used as energy is better than landfill. However, recycling has a much greater advantage for the environment, as both raw materials and greenhouse gases can be saved.