Management of post-consumer solid waste contributes to emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) representing about 3% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Most GHG reporting initiatives around the world utilize two metrics proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): radiative forcing (RF) and global warming potential (GWP). This paper provides a general introduction of the factors that define a GHG and explains the scientific background for estimating RF and GWP, thereby exposing the lay reader to a brief overview of the methods for calculating the effects of GHGs on climate change. An objective of this paper is to increase awareness that the GWP of GHGs has been re-adjusted as the concentration and relative proportion of these GHGs has changed with time (e.g., the GWP of methane has changed from 21 to 25 CO(2)-eq). Improved understanding of the indirect effects of GHGs has also led to a modification in the methodology for calculating GWP. Following a presentation of theory behind GHG, RF and GWP concepts, the paper briefly describes the most important GHG sources and sinks in the context of the waste management industry. The paper serves as a primer for more detailed research publications presented in this special issue of Waste Management & Research providing a technology-based assessment of quantitative GHG emissions from different waste management technologies.