Inventory Tool 12

Country Involved
United States
Case Study Type
Inventory Tool

Side note: treatment of recycling in consumption-based inventories.
In a consumption-based inventory, the emissions associated with producing goods are assigned to the community that purchases the goods (or causes the goods to be purchased, in the case of goods used in the supply chain). Emissions associated with disposal of goods by consumers (households and government) are assigned to the community that disposes of the goods. It is important to understand how this method of assigning emissions treats emissions reductions resulting from community-scale recycling programs.

To the extent that the community-scale recycling effort diverts waste from landfills or incinerators, and the wastes diverted would otherwise produce GHG emissions (e.g. paper in a landfill, plastics in an incinerator), the reductions in disposal-based emissions should be reflected in a consumption-based inventory.

However, for most materials recycled, the majority of GHG reductions occur not at disposal facilities, but rather upstream, primarily in manufacturing. For paper recycling, EPA’s WARM model also posits a large GHG benefit resulting from indirect (induced) carbon storage in forests. When manufacturers use recycled feedstocks, and reduce emissions associated with manufacturing process and energy use, these reduced emissions should be reflected in the emissions intensities for industries, and thus, carry through into consumption-based emissions. Because consumption-based inventories have not yet factored in emissions sinks associated with land use (forests, agriculture), the forest-related emissions reductions will not be accounted for.

However, the nature of consumption-based inventories is that the emissions intensities for industries are typically calculated based on state- or national averages. The emissions reductions within industries using recycled materials as feedstock are already included in the "upstream" emissions factors. However, these calculations are based on national or even global average recycling rates. What if a community-scale recycling effort contributes more (or less) to the stream of recyclables than the state or national average?

The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) and Sound Resource Management Group (SRMG) partially accounted for this issue in the development of Washington’s Consumer Environmental Index. The CEI is an index of the impacts of household consumption; the index uses an inventory of the greenhouse gas (and ecosystems toxicity) emissions associated with household consumption. This attachment explains the approach to crediting recycling in more detail: Recycling Offsets.docx. This document provides a background of how the CEI was developed:The+Consumer+Environmental+Index.docx.

Oregon's consumption-based emissions inventory (2005) included greenhouse gas impacts and benefits of recycling only to the extent that recycling reduces disposal-related emissions and the "upstream" benefits of recycling is reflected in state, national and global average emissions intensities for manufacturers. A supplemental report specifically explores the treatment of recycling in the consumption-based emissions inventory, finding that many of the emissions reduction benefits of recycling are not accounted for in the consumption-based inventory.

In addition, consumption-based inventories are not currently accounting for land-use related changes in carbon storage. For paper recycling, the added carbon stored in forests is a significant contributor to the overall GHG benefit. This benefit of paper recycling accounts for a large share of the recycling benefits not directly included in Oregon's consumption-based inventory.