Climate, circular economy advocates: EPA must act now to reduce pollution from landfills

On America Recycles Day, and two weeks out from global climate conference, 60 organizations call on EPA to prioritize ‘readily available’ solutions that could slash methane emissions from landfills

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Biden Administration can address unchecked methane emissions from the nation’s landfills and make progress towards its environmental justice and global emissions reduction commitments by strengthening landfill methane emissions rules, according to a letter sent by 60 organizations from across the country to President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan today.  The letter urges the United States to announce plans to update EPA’s landfill rules when world leaders meet at COP28 later this month.

"In Maryland, teens have been fighting for smarter school food waste management practices for the past five years,” says Advika Agarwal, Cofounder of Compostology Corp. “When the EPA releases actions about landfill emissions standards as a priority, local governments and institutions will be more likely to invest in solutions to prevent emissions in the first place. America Recycles Day is about celebrating progress, but also pushing for bigger, bolder climate solutions that benefit all of us. Today, we call on other youth like us to urge change surrounding our use of landfills.”

In October, Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the head of the upcoming U.N. climate talks, presented the COP28 summit as an “inflection point” in a letter to world leaders calling for bold commitments to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Maryland Department of the Environment estimated that their updated landfill emissions standards would result in 25-50% reduction in methane emissions, demonstrating the dramatic emissions reduction potential of the EPA updating federal rules overseeing municipal solid waste landfills across the U.S. These landfills together represent the 3rd highest source of industrial methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas about 80 times more powerful in its planet-warming potential than carbon dioxide on a 20-year timeframe.

“For communities located near landfills, reducing pollution is especially urgent,” says John Coequyt, Director of U.S. Government Affairs at RMI. “This isn't an abstract issue; it has tangible public health implications. By strengthening landfill emissions standards, we can cut planet-warming methane and also improve air quality, health, and quality of life for communities across the country."

"Eco-Cycle strongly supports the long-overdue updating of EPA’s landfill emissions rules to reflect up-to-date climate science,” says Suzanne Jones, Executive Director of Eco-Cycle. “Decreasing methane emissions from landfills has been a regrettably overlooked climate solution that would provide much-needed, near-term greenhouse gas reductions. Along with minimizing the amount of organic material buried in landfills in the first place, these emissions reduction strategies are scalable and proven to work.”

The letter released today marks the latest in a recent swell of momentum for tighter federal regulations on landfill emissions.  Earlier this year, 14 environmental and public interest groups petitioned the U.S. EPA to strengthen regulations to better control methane emissions from municipal landfills. In the following months, more than 50 local elected officials and more than 40 organizations have publically called on EPA Administrator Michael Regan to take action to strengthen landfill emissions controls and scale up organics diversion and other strategies to prevent waste. High-profile political figures, including former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and former Oregon Governor Kate Brown, have also joined calls for urgent federal action on landfill emissions; in recent weeks, McCarthy and Brown have published op-eds in The Hill and Waste Dive, respectively, urging federal officials to take up the issue at COP28.

“There are proven, readily available, and cost-effective solutions at our fingertips and the EPA has the authority to enact them right now,” concludes Katherine Blauvelt, Circular Economy Director at Industrious Labs. “With COP28 just weeks away, federal leaders are faced with a choice: make meaningful progress toward one of the most common-sense climate solutions we have, or maintain the status quo of unchecked methane emissions. We urge them to make the right choice.”