Carbon impact of Scotland’s waste reaches record low

The carbon emissions associated with Scotland’s waste in 2018 were 11 per cent lower than the previous year, reaching the lowest level since official recording began, not-for-profit environmental organisation Zero Waste Scotland has reported.

Zero Waste Scotland’s ‘The Carbon Footprint of Scotland’s Waste – Carbon Metric Report for 2017 and 2018’ has today revealed that 10.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO eq) were produced in 2018. The figure stands 30 per cent below 2011’s baseline level, when Carbon Metric reporting began.

The Carbon Footprint of Scotland's Waste2017 and 2018 were also the first years where more food waste, one of the most significant emitters of carbon, was recycled as opposed to being sent to landfill or incineration.

Despite making up only five per cent of Scotland’s waste by weight in 2018, food waste was still responsible for one quarter of Scotland’s total waste carbon footprint.

More emphasis has been placed on tackling Scotland’s food waste problem in recent years. Food waste has been recognised as the key to reducing carbon emissions in the country.

Statistics showing that there has been a 40 per cent increase of food waste being recycled, have been a significant contributing factor to the fall in carbon emissions produced by Scotland's waste.

The most significant factors in lowering 2018’s carbon figure were in producing less waste in general and an increase in recycling.

Waste prevention will not only help Scotland to slash carbon impacts but also to reach the 15 per cent national waste reduction target by 2025.

The report also notes the five most carbon intensive waste materials were responsible for one fifth of Scotland’s waste by weight in 2018, but accounted for 71 per cent of the overall carbon impacts.

Around four fifths (80 per cent) of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services that the country produces, uses and often throws out after just one use.

Zero Waste Scotland’s report reflects both household and non-household waste. Between 2011 and 2018, household waste overtook non-household waste in being more carbon intense. Household waste went from being 25 per cent of Scotland’s waste-related carbon footprint to 55 per cent in 2018.

Reducing the carbon impact of waste and reducing waste in general will be crucial to achieving Scotland’s 2045 net-zero target, something the Scottish Government has acknowledged in its Circular Economy Bill published in 2019.

‘We can do a lot more’

The fall in the carbon impact of Soctland’s was was welcomed by Zero Waste Scotland’s Chief Executive Iain Gulland, who added that further carbon savings can be still achieved by accelerating the transition to a circular economy and eliminating the generation of waste in the first place.

Gulland said: “We can do a lot more when it comes to recycling our waste. Every percentage increase can cut tens of thousands of tonnes off Scotland’s carbon footprint. Waste prevention has even greater environmental benefits. For instance, in the construction sector, which is the single largest contributor of waste in Scotland, reusing building materials from old sites to build new ones, can dramatically reduce the carbon impacts of our buildings.  Meanwhile in the home, food waste and single-use packaging both have major carbon impacts.
“If we buy smarter and make greater use of what we already have, we will reduce the carbon we send into the atmosphere and our impact on the planet. Fully embracing the circular economy and doing things differently will allow us to live in a way that enjoys the best of a 21st century lifestyle whilst protecting our environment.”

Dr Ramy Salemdeeb, report co-author and environmental analyst at Zero Waste Scotland, added: “The carbon impact of what we waste has reduced by almost a third since we began monitoring.

“Understanding the whole-life carbon impacts of waste allows us to introduce measures that target carbon-intensive materials to achieve the highest carbon savings and consequently contribute to Scotland’s efforts to meet the 2045 net-zero emissions target.”

You can view ‘The Carbon Footprint of Scotland’s Waste – Carbon Metric Report for 2017 and 2018’ in full on the Zero Waste Scotland website.

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