Climate Change

Reduction in recycling emissions despite plateauing of rates

Local authorities saved more carbon emissions in their recycling collections in 2013/14 than ever before, a new carbon metric index has found.

The third annual Recycling Carbon Index Report, compiled by environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting (Eunomia) and distributed with issue 80 of Resource magazine, shows that carbon emission savings from local authorities’ waste and recycling services have improved markedly between 2012/13 and 2013/14, despite the levelling off of recycling rates in England.

Based on data from WasteDataFlow, and using calculations to convert tonnage data for each of the various materials collected into embodied carbon (released from material extraction, transport, processing and manufacturing), the index aims to show the carbon impact of recycling ‘more of the right materials’ (i.e. carbon-intensive materials). The consultancy states that the environmental impact of recycling materials can sometimes be ‘obscured’ by the current weight-based targets, and, as such, has evaluated how differing collection systems can impact carbon footprints through the report.

In this latest instalment, Eunomia found that – following dips in performance in both England and Wales in 2012/13 – councils saved more carbon emissions in 2013/14 than ever before.

The consultancy concluded that this has been largely due to councils recycling more carbon-intensive materials, such as metals and plastics (which rose by eight and nine per cent respectively), which led to a carbon saving of 1.7 million tonnes. Conversely, paper recorded as separately collected declined by two per cent – equivalent to 30,000 tonnes – a sign of the gradual move from paper to electronic-based information (reinforced recently by the closure of one of the UK’s largest paper recycling mills, Aylesford Newsprint).

Geographic break down

Reduction in recycling emissions despite plateauing of rates

On a nation-by-nation basis, recycling services in Northern Ireland showed the largest improvement, saving seven per cent more carbon than last year. This was down to 77 per cent of authorities showing an improvement. The co-mingling authorities of Larne Borough Council and Omagh District Council came in joint first for the Northern Irish table, with both councils saving 84 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2 eq) per person (up from 77 in 2012/13).

Welsh authorities came in second in terms of improvement, increasing by six per cent. Wales also saw the largest proportion of councils reporting an improvement, with 81 per cent on an upward track. Flintshire County Council (which operates a separate-sort collection) was the best performer here, saving 109 kg CO2 eq per person, up from 88 in 2012/13.

Despite England’s recycling rates increasing by just 0.3 per cent in 2013/14, the nation saved four per cent more greenhouse gases in 2013/14 than in 2012/13. The country did, however, see the smallest increase in local authority improvement, with 63 per cent showing improvement in carbon terms. Cheshire West and Chester Council (which operates a kerbside-sort service) once again came top of the league table, saving 116 kg CO2 eq per person, up from 105 in 2012/13.

Scotland is not included in the reporting, as it already has its own carbon metric.

Alongside the report, Eunomia has also launched an online interactive tool that allows councils’ CO2 savings to be compared with one another and between years.

‘Vital that we have efficient collection services that effectively maximise environmental performance’

Speaking of the data, James Fulford, Director at Eunomia, said: “It’s really encouraging to see the improvement in performance between 2012/13 and 2013/14, particularly set against plateauing recycling rates in England. It highlights the importance of considering the full environmental impacts of recycling services.

“It’s vital that we have efficient collection services that effectively maximise environmental performance. The report and online tool will help waste managers to identify good practice and understand where to focus efforts to improve the environmental performance of their services.”

Read the full third annual Recycling Carbon Index Report.

Related Articles