The Climate Story of Waste

Everything that you dispose of, whether an apple peel in the compost or a candy wrapper in the trash, represents a combination of energy, water, and materials that went into growing or manufacturing and shipping that item. When you throw away, recycle, or compost anything, you’re influencing its impact on the climate.

Things that are thrown away get taken to the Cedar Hills Landfill in Maple Valley. Because the landfill is packed down and buried daily, items in the landfill decompose very slowly, over the course of many years. Any food and organic material thrown away produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as it slowly breaks down. The Cedar Hills Landfill uses a high-tech system to capture the methane to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere, but it would be better if food and yard debris were composted instead.

Graph of Kirkland community greenhouse gas emissions between 2005-2017

Read the City’s 2018 greenhouse gas report (pdf), covering community greenhouse gas emissions for the first time

When you recycle something in your blue cart, it’s sorted by material type, processed into raw material, and used to create new products. Making plastic from recycled material uses 88% less energy than using raw materials.

Food and yard waste that’s composted becomes a nutrient-rich soil amendment in a matter of weeks. When tilled into the soil as an amendment, it sequesters the carbon from your food and landscape trimmings until it is taken up by new plants growing. Storing carbon in soil and plants is one of the most effective ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The City of Kirkland has goals to reduce our community’s climate emissions, and what we do with our waste can help us meet those goals.

You can reduce the climate impacts of your waste by:

  • Recycling items on our accepted materials list
  • Composting all your food scraps and yard trimmings
  • Choosing food and products in recyclable or reusable packaging over disposable packaging (e.g. yogurt tub versus tubes of yogurt)
  • Using reusable products instead of disposable ones (e.g. cloth towels instead of paper towels)
  • Skipping single-use items like paper cups and plastic straws, or plastic produce bags
  • Reducing the total amount of waste your household produces, especially your trash but also your recycling and food waste
  • Purchasing items made with (preferably post-consumer) recycled content or just purchasing less!