By Alex Shim
Sustainability Analyst
LEED Green Associate
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

photo of recycling bin at Premier Plaza | Atlanta, GA | LEED pointsWhen was the last time you thought about the trash you threw away? If you think about it now, did you throw it in a recycling or trash bin?  To ensure that waste is diverted from landfills as much as possible, we encourage you to recycle for the numerous reasons that will be pointed out below.

According to the EPA, landfills are engineered areas of land where waste is deposited, compacted, and covered. Landfills receive waste primarily from three broad categories: Household, Commercial, and Institutional. In a study done by Duke University’s Center for Sustainability, an average person in the United States generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. An average household in the U.S. contains three members, so that’s about 13 pounds of waste per household daily. Commercial buildings can generate over a thousand pounds of waste per day depending on the number of tenants. The amount of waste we generate will continue to be burdensome to our landfills and harmful to our environment unless we take action by recycling and diverting waste.

An important reason we should focus on reducing waste is that we face two main environmental problems from the waste that enters our landfills. The problems consist of air pollution by landfill gas (LFG) emission and ground water pollution.

LFG is generated from established waste and is typically composed of mostly methane (50%) and carbon dioxide (50%). These are gases that can contribute to air pollution as well as climate change. LFG emission will worsen as we generate more waste and fill up more of our landfills. According to WeGreen USA, a non-profit community fighting to reduce carbon footprint, methane is 25 times more effective in retaining heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide, therefore, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas and a leading contributor to global warming.

Groundwater pollution due to leachates, the liquid that drains from a landfill, can leak toxins into our fresh waterways that end up in our homes. In addition, these leaks are often undetected because landfills are most often located near bodies of water or swamps. As the number of landfills increase, the number of leaks will increase five-fold. Moreover, due to the exponential growth in population, we will generate more waste annually. Therefore, it is imperative that we enhance recycling, composting, and diverting waste.

Because recycling and diverting waste is so important, the LEED rating system for green buildings requires a Waste Management Plan. This plan allows buildings to gain additional points for diverting different thresholds of waste from landfills. The Materials and Resources: Solid Waste Management Policy, also known as MRp2, is a highly achievable LEED pre-requisite that requires you to implement a solid waste management policy to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills from your building. This policy will provide property managers and engineers with a clear procedure for handling waste and paving the way for achieving additional credits such as the following: Ongoing Consumables (MRc7), Durable Goods (MRc8), and Facility Alterations and Additions (MRc9).

Achieving the MRp2 credit allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Not only is MRp2 easy to achieve to earn LEED points for your building, but also, this credit, in a larger scope, can be beneficial for the environment due to the reduced waste entering landfills.

Green buildings are already taking steps to reduce waste going into landfills. Achieving the credits mentioned above to earn LEED Credit points will protect the environment and public health, conserve natural resources, and minimize landfilling and incineration. Green buildings’ approach in diverting waste and recycling is critical to our landfills and environment. According to the USGBC, green buildings have saved $54.2 million in waste savings and are responsible for diverting more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills; by 2030, that number is expected to grow to 540 million tons. In addition, by the year 2035, approximately 75% of the built environment will be either new or renovated. If we manage and divert waste by following the guidelines of MRp2 and its credits, we will make a huge impact in waste management in the next few decades.

The practice of recycling and diverting waste is not limited to commercial spaces; it is just as important for you to apply recycling practices at home.

Helpful Links:

EBOM-2009 MRp2: Solid Waste Management Policy

USGBC Solid waste management policy

Advanced Disposal

Compost, Recycling, or Trash? Do you know what goes where?

References:

“Duke University: Center for Sustainability & Commerce.” How much do we waste daily? | Center for Sustainability & Commerce at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Duke University, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.References:

“Economic Impact Analysis for the Proposed New Subpart to the New Source Performance Standards.” Municipal Solid Waste Landfills. US EPA, June 2014. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.

“Landfill Problems.” WeGreen USA: one footprint at a time. WeGreen USA, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.

“LEEDuser – EBOM-2009 MRp2: Solid Waste Management Policy.” LEED EBOM-2009 MRp2 Solid Waste Management Policy | LEEDuser — LEED Certification Toolkit and Forum. BuildingGreen, Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.

“USGBC: Benefits of Green Building.” U.S. Green Building Council. USGBC, 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.

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