Carbon Index 2017: Powys powers ahead with carbon reduction
Simon Hann and Peter Jones from Eunomia present the fifth Local Authority Recycling Carbon Index, showing who's winning the fight to reduce carbon emissions
The local authority that achieved the biggest carbon reduction in 2015/16 was Wales’ biggest county. Powys County Council’s recycling system saved more greenhouse gas emissions in 2015/16 than any other local authority in England, Wales or Northern Ireland – a massive 130 kilogrammes (kg) of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) per person.
Powys also showed the biggest year-on-year improvement in Eunomia Research & Consulting’s Recycling Carbon Index, driven by a switch to three-weekly residual collection in late 2015. Squeezing the amount of residual waste capacity available to residents appears to have boosted recycling: an extra 10kg of plastic, and an extra 5kg of metal, was collected per person in 2015/16, resulting in a total saving of 130 kgCO2e per person. In addition to material collected at the kerbside, the council reports around half of all the bring site tonnage in Wales.
While other Welsh authorities exceed Powys’s performance on a tonnage-based recycling rate, to understand the carbon impact of recycling means looking at the types of materials that are collected. Plastic and metal play an important role in Eunomia’s Recycling Carbon Index calculations because they offer relatively high carbon returns per tonne of material recycled. The Carbon Index supplements statistics on recycling rates by showing the CO2e savings that result from councils’ recycling efforts, giving a greater insight into their wider environmental impact.
Powys is joined at the top of the Carbon Index by Rhondda Cynon Taf, whose second-place finish results from reporting a greater tonnage per person of textiles, card, glass and plastic than any other authority; the council falls behind Powys mainly on metals.
In total, Welsh local authorities’ recycling efforts saved 8.1 per cent more greenhouse gases in 2015/16 than the previous year, according to the latest figures. Meanwhile, the carbon performance of the local authorities in England and Northern Ireland, whose recycling rates have plateaued in recent years, was broadly unchanged.
England’s best performer is now the Dorset Waste Partnership, whose Recycle for Dorset kerbside collection service completed its roll-out in October 2015. Already ‘high flyers’ in the 2014/15 Carbon Index, the DWP overtakes Cheshire West & Chester (last year’s overall chart-topper) and North Somerset.
England’s biggest rise was achieved by Darlington, which was also one of the most improved performers in 2014/15. The authority has continued its upwards trajectory in 2015/16 with a further 54 per cent increase in carbon savings. This increase in performance coincides with the introduction of an alternate weekly collection service in 2014.
Eunomia provides an online comparison tool on its website, which enables authorities’ performance to be reviewed over time, or compared with one another. However, year-on-year comparisons in Northern Ireland are made difficult in 2015/16 by a change in local government district boundaries – 26 district council areas have been replaced by 11 larger local government districts. Under the new boundaries, the best performer was Fermanagh and Omagh, saving 84 kg CO2e per person.
Eunomia’s material-by-material analysis is based on information supplied by councils through the WasteDataFlow reporting system, supplemented by assumptions regarding the composition of mixed materials. The work highlights a number of exceptional performances by local authorities on specific material streams. For example, Colchester collects more WEEE at the kerbside than any other council: at 16kg per person, it accounts for almost half of the total from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Cases such as this might bear further investigation – whether to learn from good collection practice, or to iron out inconsistencies in reporting.
However, the Carbon Index provides further evidence of the extent to which Wales is moving ahead of its neighbours in its waste management achievements. With stretching targets for future years, and encouragement for multistream collections that minimise emissions associated with sorting, it seems that Welsh authorities may consolidate their hold on the top of the carbon league in future years.
The Carbon Index is available online at: www.eunomia.co.uk/carbonindex