These existing recycling solutions can help stop catastrophic climate change says Project Drawdown

These existing recycling solutions can help stop catastrophic climate change says Project Drawdown

By Rachael Ridley  June 30th, 2022

Not-for-profit research organisation Project Drawdown has updated its existing list of drawdown solutions with new actions that can help us address climate change, including existing recycling technologies.


The list of ‘drawdown solutions’ feature technologies and practices with the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding emissions and/or by sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Project Drawdown posits if these solutions are ambitiously implemented together, we can achieve ‘drawdown’ — the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change.

The newly announced solutions include recycling metals and plastics, as well as reducing plastics, improving aquaculture and fisheries, seaweed farming, and managing methane leaks. The organisation has now completed research and analysis of 93 different global solutions spanning a range of sectors including agriculture, industry, transportation, electricity, health and education, and natural and engineered sinks.

To meet the criteria of a drawdown solution the technology or practice must be currently available, growing in scale, financially viable, able to have a net positive impact, and quantifiable under different scenarios.

Recycled Metals

According to Project Drawdown, recycled metals are estimated to increase from 39 per cent of the market to 41–48 per cent of a growing market for metals production, saving 4.31–12.34 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions between 2020 and 2050. 

Recycled metals capitalise on already extracted materials, making it possible to produce goods more efficiently, reduce the need to extract new resources, and cut down on energy and water use. 

While there are limitations and difficulties in recovering metals for recycling, particularly with electrical products that require separation of components, Project Drawdown’s analysis indicates even small improvements of metal recovery for recycled metal production can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, increasing secondary production from 39 to 41 per cent of the total market over the next 30 years, which is feasible given the expansion of recycling programs globally, could save more than four gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. Increasing secondary production to 48 per cent over the same time period would reduce greenhouse gases by more than 12 gigatons.

Beyond reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, reusing metal materials has other significant environmental benefits. It reduces land disruption, soil and water pollution, and ecosystem impacts of mining. It can also yield social benefits by reducing health harms and child labor associated with some metals extraction. 

Recycled Plastics

Recycling plastics requires less energy than producing new materials and relieves demand for fossil-fuel-based raw materials. It also saves landfill space and reduces environmental pollution.

Project Drawdown states deploying plastics recycling (limited to nondurable goods such as packaging) to meet 25 to 57 per cent of demand could save half a gigaton or more of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2050. Beyond just emissions reduction, the impact of better recycling also means there will be better end-of-life collection infrastructure, preventing loss to the environment and the detrimental environmental effects of ocean plastics and plastic incineration in informal waste management.

What is Project Drawdown's aim?

Founded in 2014, Project Drawdown’s aim is to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions—and the world—toward drawdown as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. The core of the organisation’s work is based on its conviction that we can achieve drawdown by mid-century using existing tools and technologies.

For more information, visit Project Drawdown.


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Rachael Ridley

Rachael manages the Business Recycling and Recycling Near You websites. Rachael joined Planet Ark in early 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor, and writer. Rachael loves using her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change. Outside of work, Rachael enjoys spending time in nature, listening to music, and patting dogs.

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