Waste Production and Climate Change: Relations and Impacts

By: Oladele Olamide John
June 12, 2024

Currently, I’m working with a team at RDI to explore climate change policy. The aim of the project is to analyze the utilization of various climate change resilience and adaptation plans across various municipalities in Manitoba. However, in this blog report, I’ll be writing about how waste and climate change are related, describe their environmental effects, and explain how many people frequently fail to notice this connection. I will also discuss potential solutions and initiatives that can be implemented to address this issue, as well as the importance of raising awareness about the impact of waste on climate change. By shedding light on this often-overlooked connection, I hope to inspire individuals and communities to act towards a more sustainable future.

Waste, in tiny or large amounts, is an inevitable part of life on Earth, and each and every person produces waste. The primary factor influencing climate change, however, is the way we handle waste. In addition to leaving waste all over the place, improper waste management pollutes the air and oceans, harming our ecosystem. Given that trash production rises in direct proportion to economic growth and living standards, the outlook for the ensuing decades is dismal (Sensoneo, 2024). As discussed by Silpa et al. (2021), the World Bank projects that by 2050 the globe will generate 3.88 billion metric tons of waste per year, a 73% increase from 2020.

Short-lived climate pollutants have increased due to inadequate waste management systems and poorly implemented practices worldwide. The public is often unaware of the link between waste management and climate change, making it difficult to make climate-conscious decisions. Consumers are less aware of emissions in goods and services, and carbon labeling is not widely used to inform them. This lack of awareness contributes to the challenges of reducing global carbon emissions (Hampton & Whitmarsh, 2023).

How waste contributes to climate change includes

Most people probably think of cutting back on driving and turning off the lights when thinking about mitigating climate change and lowering their carbon footprint, but very few think about how organic and inorganic waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions globally and how living a zero-waste lifestyle reduces carbon footprints by keeping materials out of landfills. All waste materials dumped in landfills, however, harm the environment. This kind of waste disposal appears to be the most popular in many communities because of inadequate infrastructure for managing waste (primarily in rural areas), low awareness (often in both rural and urban areas), and a general lack of emphasis on sustainable waste management techniques (again across both rural and urban areas). The work of Robinson and Huun (2024) indicates that the climate impact of waste disposal is often a byproduct of:

  1. Organic waste, which breaks down to produce methane and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of organic matter rotting in the atmosphere, whereas methane is formed in the absence of oxygen.
  2. Analogously, items derived from natural resources like metal, wood, fuel, and water also constitute inorganic waste because they release pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide.
  3. Furthermore, the entire lifecycle of plastic waste results in greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions are only possible due to the extraction and mining of coal, gas, and oil, which are all necessary for the production of plastic. Tons of carbon emissions are released during the manufacture and disposal of plastics.
  4. Consequently, the transportation, decomposition, and combustion processes involved in waste disposal also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. All things considered, inappropriate handling of organic and inorganic waste—especially plastic waste—has a negative influence on the ecosystem and fuels climate change.

Factors contributing to this lack of awareness include:

There are various reasons why people aren’t aware that improper disposal of their waste contributes to climate change. One could be the lack of education on the environmental impact of waste disposal practices. Additionally, some individuals may not realize the connection between their actions and global climate change due to a lack of visibility of the long-term effects. Another factor could be the lack of easily accessible information on proper waste management practices and their environmental consequences. There are notable detrimental factors that lead to a lack of knowledge and awareness of the connection between waste and climate change. Additionally, these factors contribute to improper waste management, facilitating climate change across various communities around the world, such as:

  • The absence of toxic waste management, encompassing organic, inorganic, plastic, and electronic waste, as well as insufficient financial resources allocated to waste management, subsequently fosters people’s ignorance surrounding the impact of waste on the environment by not providing adequate education and infrastructure for proper waste disposal and recycling. The global crisis is ultimately made worse by this lack of resources and awareness, which feeds the loop of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Numerous community landfills, including those in backyards and near homes, have proliferated as a result of the lack of curbside waste collection services, leading to the leaching of harmful chemicals into the soil and water sources. This cycle perpetuates environmental degradation and exacerbates the effects of climate change on a global scale. Additionally, since the effects of these practices are only felt after a long period, there is a lack of immediate consequences to deter individuals from continuing harmful waste disposal habits. This lack of accountability further perpetuates the cycle of environmental degradation and exacerbates the long-term effects of climate change.
  • Federal governments’ failure to enforce environmental laws prohibiting improper waste disposal (i.e., dumping waste in landfills) allows for these harmful practices to continue unchecked, leading to further damage to the environment and exacerbating the already dire effects of climate change. So basically, these communities’ cultural norms and practices that prioritize convenience over sustainability also play a significant role in perpetuating improper waste management habits. When the younger generation notices these improper habits, they pick up and copy them, and this becomes their normality and diminishes their awareness of the importance of proper waste disposal and environmental protection. This lack of awareness and normalization of harmful practices can hinder efforts to combat climate change and protect the environment for future generations.

To promote awareness and understanding of waste and climate change, educational programs and initiatives can be implemented to teach the younger generation about the importance of proper waste disposal and environmental protection. By instilling these values early on, we can help create a more sustainable future and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. Waste sustainability or environmental sustainability are by-products of knowledge and awareness of the linkage between waste and climate change, and this can be achieved when:

  • Environmental knowledge – empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their consumption and waste disposal, ultimately leading to a more sustainable future. Taking the time to educate oneself on environmental issues can inspire others to join in collective efforts toward conservation and preservation.
  • Environmental awareness – can lead to positive changes in behaviors and habits that contribute to a healthier planet overall. By staying informed and making conscious choices, individuals can play a crucial role in preserving the environment for generations to come.
  • Environmental attitude – when individuals have a mindset towards protecting their environment via proper waste management and sustainable practices, it can greatly impact the health of our planet for future generations. Individuals need to educate themselves on the importance of environmental conservation and take action in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint.

When these factors are connected or communicated effectively to individuals of all ages. This holistic approach can help foster a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards the environment, leading to long-term positive impacts on our planet.

On a final note, to achieve waste sustainability, I believe every individual action matters. Since waste is an inevitable byproduct of humans, it is important to start making changes and influencing people’s attitudes towards the environment, even by taking smaller steps toward change, such as reducing single-use plastics or properly recycling materials. This can only be made possible when people become environmentally knowledgeable and aware of the impact their actions have on their environment. Education and awareness are key to promoting sustainable waste management practices and creating a more environmentally conscious society.

By educating ourselves and others about the importance of waste sustainability, we can work towards creating a more sustainable environment. It is crucial for individuals to understand that their actions, no matter how small, can make a significant difference in reducing waste and protecting the environment. By collectively making conscious decisions, we can work towards a more sustainable future for generations to come. Some may argue that education and awareness alone are not enough to address the complex issue of waste management, but they are crucial first steps in changing behaviors and promoting sustainable practices. Additionally, it is undeniable that education plays a crucial role in empowering (raising awareness) individuals to make informed choices (an environmental attitude) and act towards a more sustainable future. However, implementing waste policies and regulations without first securing widespread education and awareness may not be as effective in achieving long-term sustainability goals. Thus, it is important for individuals to be informed and engaged to truly make a positive impact on the environment.


Hampton, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2023). Choices for climate action: A review of the multiple roles individuals play. One Earth, 6(9), 1157–1172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2023.08.006

Robinson, C. & Huun, K. (2024, March 13). The impact of recycling on climate change. Environmental Center. https://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/2023/12/15/impact-recycling-climate-change

Sensoneo. (2024, January 4). The connection between climate change and waste management. https://sensoneo.com/waste-library/climate-change-waste-management/

Silpa, K., Siddarth, S., & Sarur, C. (2021). More growth, less garbage. Urban Development Series. © World Bank, Washington, DC. http://hdl.handle.net/10986/35998