how does organic waste affect the environment

How Organic Waste Affect the Environment – Ways Food Waste Is Destroying Our Beautiful Planet

Last Updated on August 27, 2023 by Annie Baldwin

Organic waste like food scraps and yard trimmings produce methane when they decompose, making waste management an important part of fighting climate change.

This article explores the science behind organic waste and its impacts.

It’s worth reading to understand how our everyday habits connect to global warming.

How Organic Waste Affect the Environment

How Organic Waste Affect the Environment

Organic waste contributes significantly to climate change when buried in landfills.

The methane emitted accelerates global warming.

Key Points

  • Organic waste makes up over 50% of materials sent to landfills in the US
  • Methane is 86 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years
  • Landfills are the 3rd largest source of methane emissions in the US

What is Organic Waste?

Organic waste refers to biodegradable waste originating from plants or animals.

This includes food scraps, yard trimmings, paper, wood, and other materials that were once living.

When organic matter like food, leaves, grass clippings, and paper decompose, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Methane has a global warming potential 86 times higher than carbon dioxide over 20 years.

How Do Landfills Produce Methane?

In modern landfills, organic waste is buried under layers of soil and other waste.

This anaerobic environment blocks oxygen and prevents aerobic decomposition.

Instead, methane-producing bacteria break down the waste anaerobically.

Modern landfills have systems to collect the methane, but not all of it is captured.

What Percentage of Methane Comes from Landfills?

Landfills are the third largest source of human-caused methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 15.4% in 2021.

Globally, landfill methane emissions comprised over 20% of total methane emissions as of 2020.

Landfill methane contributes significantly to climate change.

How Does Organic Waste in Landfills Impact Communities?

Landfills are often sited near marginalized communities, leading to environmental injustice.

Pollutants like nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds are released, posing health risks like asthma, cancer, and neurological damage.

Methane also contributes to smog formation.

What Percentage of Waste in Landfills is Organic?

In the United States, organic waste like paper, food scraps, and yard trimmings comprises over half of the waste sent to landfills.

According to EPA statistics, paper and paperboard account for 23.2% of waste, while food scraps are 21.6% and yard trimmings 13.7%.

How Does Food Waste Impact Climate Change?

According to United Nations estimates, food waste alone contributes to 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

When left to rot in landfills, wasted food produces methane, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants.

Reducing food waste is one of the most effective ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Can Composting Mitigate Methane Emissions?

Composting organic waste like food scraps aerobically prevents methane production.

It also enriches soil, enhances food security, and protects biodiversity.

Supporting local composting programs and facilities is an impactful climate action that communities can take.

What Policies Help Divert Organic Waste?

Policy interventions like landfill bans on organic waste, mandatory composting and recycling laws, and food waste reduction campaigns can significantly divert organic waste from landfills.

For example, in 2019 the state of Vermont banned food waste from landfills, leading to a 26% reduction in waste tonnage.

How Can Consumers Help Reduce Methane from Organic Waste?

Consumers can help by reducing food waste, composting food scraps, and supporting policies to divert organic waste.

Choosing products with less packaging, proper meal planning, and utilizing food waste apps also helps cut methane.

Conscientious shopping, storing food properly, and being aware of food labels to avoid spoilage can reduce household food waste.

What are the Harmful Effects of Organic Waste?

The anaerobic decomposition of organic waste in landfills produces harmful emissions like methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, sulfur compounds, and volatile organic compounds.

Methane contributes significantly to climate change as a potent greenhouse gas.

Ammonia and sulfur compounds can react with other chemicals to form particulate matter, which causes respiratory issues.

Volatile organic compounds are linked to headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.

Landfill gas also contains trace amounts of toxic metals like mercury, cadmium, and lead.

When landfill gas is captured and processed into energy, these toxic metals end up concentrated in the leftover ash.

This contaminated ash can pollute air and water sources.

How Does Organic Waste Affect Climate Change?

As organic waste like food scraps, paper, and yard trimmings decompose in landfills, they produce methane gas through anaerobic digestion.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with 86 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over 20 years.

Landfills are the third largest source of human-caused methane emissions in the United States.

Globally, landfill methane accounts for over 20% of total methane emissions from human activities.

This significant amount of methane production makes landfills a major driver of climate change.

Diversion of organic waste through composting, recycling, and waste reduction is crucial to mitigating methane emissions and combating global warming.

Why is Organic Waste in Landfills a Problem for the Environment?

Sending organic waste like food and yard debris to landfills causes numerous environmental issues.

As it decomposes anaerobically, organic waste in landfills produces methane, which accelerates climate change.

Landfills also release other air pollutants that harm public health like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur compounds, and volatile organic compounds.

Leachate containing dissolved organic matter, ammonia, heavy metals, and other contaminants can leak from landfills and pollute ground and surface waters.

Landfilling organic waste is inefficient and wasteful of resources that could be composted or recycled.

Ultimately, organic waste decomposing in landfills contributes significantly to air pollution, climate change, water pollution, and inefficient resource use – making it a major environmental problem.

The Takeaway

Organic waste such as food scraps and yard debris play a major role in climate change when buried in landfills.

The methane emitted accelerates global warming and carries health risks.

But we can all be part of the solution through composting, smart shopping habits, and advocating for systemic change.

With collective action, organic waste can become a resource – not a pollutant.


What are the Impacts of Methane Gas?

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat, causing global temperatures to rise. This leads to issues like sea level rise, flooding, droughts, and extreme weather.

How Does Methane Get into the Atmosphere?

Methane escapes into the atmosphere during the extraction and transport of fossil fuels like natural gas. It’s also released from decomposing organic waste in landfills and during the digestive process of livestock like cows.

What Can Policymakers Do About Landfill Methane?

Policymakers can pass legislation to ban organic waste from landfills, make composting and recycling mandatory, and fund campaigns to reduce food waste. Financial incentives for methane capture systems are also impactful.

At GreenChiCafe, we are passionate about protecting our planet and taking climate action. Visit our website to learn more ways you can reduce your environmental impact.

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