Manufacturing and the Environment

What contributes to a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon emitted from consumption of fossil fuels. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the manufacturing industry accounts for just over 22% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. If you add in the use of electricity and transportation, the size of the carbon footprint contribution grows – possibly to 30%.

This number can be calculated by estimating the amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by burning fossil fuels and by the amount of electricity used to power equipment.

farmland and factories

The two most common contributors to manufacturer’s carbon footprint are:

Consumption of Fossil Fuels
The most direct contribution to greenhouse gases comes from the consumption of fossil fuels for energy during the manufacturing process. This Includes delivery of raw materials, employee transportation, and distribution of finished product. In fact, more than 90% of fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, according to the EPA. This includes both gasoline and diesel.

Electricity Usage
When electricity is used to power equipment and other items, such as lighting, water heaters and HVAC equipment, a manufacturer’s carbon footprint goes up. According to the EPA, carbon dioxide emissions from electric usage make up most of the greenhouse gasses produced today. Generating electricity also causes methane and nitrous oxide gases to be produced.

When electricity is used and produced, carbon dioxide emissions make up the vast majority of greenhouse gases, according to the EPA. However, generating electricity also causes methane and nitrous oxide gases to be produced.

The Benefits of Recycling
Recycling helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy consumption. Using recycled materials to make new products reduces the need for virgin materials. This avoids greenhouse gas emissions that would result from extracting or mining virgin materials.
Since plastic production emits greenhouse gases, from the start of production to the manufacturing of the final product and the disposal of those products, recycling reduces the need for new plastic.


  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators.
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals.
  • Increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials.
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials.
  • Saves energy.

What is Resource Conservation and Recovery Act?

42 U.S.C. §6901 et seq. (1976)

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the federal law that regulates the management of hazardous waste, non-hazardous wastes, medical wastes, and underground storage tanks. The RCRA gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from cradle to grave. This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA also set forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous solid wastes.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists what constitutes RCRA hazardous waste on document 40 C.F.R. Sections 261.31 to 261.33. Material that exhibits one of four characteristics of hazardous waste is also included.

Are recycled hazardous waste regulated under RCRA?
Hazardous waste that is recycled generally continues to be regulated under RCRA as a hazardous waste. Recycling units are themselves generally exempt from RCRA regulation, but the material being recycled (with a few exceptions) must be managed as a hazardous waste until final reclamation is complete.

HSWA – the Federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments
These are the 1984 amendments to RCRA that focused on waste minimization and phasing out land disposal of hazardous waste as well as corrective action for releases. Some of the other mandates of this law include increased enforcement authority for EPA, more stringent hazardous waste management standards, and a comprehensive underground storage tank program.