Recycling, composting, and other waste reduction efforts are essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing the harm of landfills on human health and the environment. However, climate change may impact waste reduction practices across the United States. The Midwest region has seen an average temperature increase of more than 1.5°F over the last several decades and is projected to see continued increases. As temperatures get warmer across the Midwest, the region is projected to experience more extreme weather events, such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, and flooding.
By damaging vehicles, buildings, or infrastructure, or causing power outages or agricultural interruptions that allow food to spoil, extreme weather events leave behind debris that can be difficult to manage. The larger quantities of waste during and after extreme weather events can overwhelm recycling and compost facilities that may already be facing management and capacity issues. Along with larger quantities of waste, a wider variety of waste may be present. Existing facilities may not be equipped to recycle or compost these materials, meaning the waste will be sent to landfills.
Even if a municipality has the capacity to manage the waste from an extreme weather event, other issues can make diverting recyclable and compostable materials challenging. For example, flooding leads to an increase in construction waste, which is difficult to separate by material type and leads to contamination and can make recycling untenable. Without a plan for efficiently managing large amounts of waste from extreme weather events, sorting through debris can be timely and costly.