Climate Change

Local authorities see carbon savings from recycling fall

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) saved by local authorities in England and Wales due to recycling dropped by three per cent in one year, new figures from environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd (Eunomia)  have shown.

According to Eunomia’s ‘Recycling Carbon Index: England, Wales & Northern Ireland Local Authorities 2012/13’– the second annual report to measure the environmental performance of councils – waste and recycling services (rather than just looking at recycling rates),there was a three per cent decrease in the amount of CO2 equivalent emissions saved through recycling activities in England and Wales in 2012/13, compared with the previous year (2011/12).

Eunomia highlights that despite England seeing a ‘small rise’ in recycling (0.2 per cent) that year, the drop in carbon savings was due to a ‘marked decline in the amount of textiles and metal collected’, which have high levels of embodied carbon and energy.

The consultants warned, however, that the methodology to calculating the index has been modified from last year’s table, as for the first time the 2012/13 league accommodates recycling reported by authorities for the voluntary sector.

Writing in issue 77 of Resource magazine, Eunomia’s Life Cycle assessment Specialist Simon Hann explained that, as “much of this relates to textiles and textile recycling”, it brings “significant carbon benefits”, so those authorities most actively engaged with voluntary and other third sector community groups or charities improved greatly.

Local authority breakdown

England and Wales

Despite an overall decrease in carbon savings, some authorities managed to achieve significant improvements in their results. The ‘top performer’ in England (and for the carbon index for a whole) in 2012/13 was Cheshire West and Chester Council, which saved 105 kilogrammes (kg) of CO2 per person, up from 98 kg the year before. This pushed last year’s leaders, North Somerset, off the top spot to second place.

Across the border in Wales, Powys moved up from its mid-table position to top the Welsh Index in 2012/13.

Both authorities’ improved performance was said to have been driven by a change in collection system, which involves fortnightly refuse collections alongside weekly recycling and separate food waste collections. Both also moved from co-mingled to kerbside sort recycling services (which reportedly resulted in ‘higher-quality’ recycling, thus improving environmental performance significantly).

Indeed, although neither of these authorities performed as well in terms of recycling rates, they did hold the ‘distinction’ of being two of only three councils covered by the index that saved more than 100 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per person within their area. (The third was North Somerset, which saved 104 kgs per person).

Northern Ireland

Unlike in England and Wales, local authorities in Northern Ireland saw an improvement of one percent over the year 2012/13.

Larne Borough Council and Omagh District Council topped the league for Northern Ireland, saving the same amount of carbon emissions in 2012/13 (77 kg per person), but Larne saw the biggest improvement of the two, reducing emissions by five kgs.

reduction highlights the importance of considering the full environmental impacts of recycling services’

As Eunomia has acknowledged in the report, some of these changes are in the range of statistical error; they also point out that as the data covers only a two-year period it is probably too soon to conclude these numbers indicate a trend, however James Fulford, Director at Eunomia, said he believes the report’s results are nonetheless instructive.

He said:“The reduction in carbon benefit from household recycling in England and Wales between 2011/12 and 2012/13 highlights the importance of considering the full environmental impacts of recycling services. It is encouraging that despite the changing composition of the recycling being collected, some authorities have managed to make impressive improvements.

“We need efficient collection services that effectively maximise environmental performance. The report and online tool will help waste managers to identify good practice and understand how they may need to focus their efforts to improve the environmental performance of their own services.”

Eunomia’s Local Authority Recycling Carbon Index is now available to read online.