Counting Carbon

Local authorities have long been battling it out to top the annual recycling table, but thanks to Eunomia’s new report ‘The Recycling Carbon Index’ (accompanying this issue of Resource), they could soon be competing to have the most carbon-efficient waste management system, too. Simon Hann has more

This article was taken from Issue 74

For many years, the recycling rate has been seen as the most important gauge of environmental performance when it comes to waste management, and it is the recycling league table that councils aspire to top. As a metric, recycling has advantages: it’s easy to understand, easy to calculate and relies on known data. 

However, there are problems using just this measure. For starters, it does not capture the relative value of collecting different materials. Recycling a tonne of paper brings significant environmental benefits, but recycling a tonne of aluminium is many times more beneficial.

Focusing on recycling rates also overlooks the benefits of working at the top of the waste hierarchy on prevention activities, and fails to say anything about the relative environmental impact of different approaches to residual waste treatment (more about these later.)