Eunomia launches ‘Recycling Carbon Index’


Environmental consultancy firm Eunomia has released a new index that ranks local authorities (LAs) in England, Northern Ireland and Wales on the carbon impact of their waste management systems.

Published today (19 November), Eunomia’s ‘Recycling Carbon Index’ utilises WasteDataFlow reporting to rank councils on the kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) saved per person through their dry recycling service.

It follows the approach taken in Scotland, where LAs report on their performance against the ‘Carbon Metric’ (however, as Scottish authorities are held to a different reporting regime, the results are not directly comparable, and thus aren’t included in Eunomia’s index).

Eunomia says it hopes the index will provide councils with an ‘alternative’ measure of, and ‘greater insight’ into, the environmental performance of their waste and recycling services (although the score excludes the carbon impacts for the treatment of residual waste).

Ranking system

According to Eunomia, the index has been made to build upon the metric ‘recycling rate’ as the standard gauge of environmental performance in waste management, and the ‘recycling league table’ (also based on WasteDataFlow reporting) as the standard mode of comparison.

For instance, Eunomia highlights that although North Somerset council is ranked as the ninth best performing council in England in terms of recycling, it is the most carbon-efficient English LA in terms of its waste management (saving 112 kg of CO2e per person).

As such, it is the top of the ‘high flyers’ (top 10 per cent of LAs) for England (other categories include ‘good performers’ (the next 30 per cent); ‘mid performers’ (the following 30 per cent), and ‘poor performers’ (the bottom 30 per cent)).

As a ‘high flyer’, North Somerset:

  • recovers three times the amount of textiles compared to ‘poor performers’;
  • recovers large amounts of food from separate food waste collections;
  • recovers twice the amount of metal compared to ‘poor performers’;
  • recovers 80 per cent more plastics than ‘poor performers’; and
  • recovers three times the amount of dry recycling from bring banks and household waste recycling centres than the worst performing LAs in terms of carbon impact.

Indeed, Eunomia estimates that if all of the UK authorities' recycling schemes performed as well as North Somerset, the UK could save 6.72 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – the same as taking 2.2 million cars of the road.

Conversely, Tower Hamlets LB, which is ranked a relatively impressive 145/352 in the recycling league table, sits at the very bottom of Eunomia’s Recycling Carbon Index, with a score of just 20, due in part to its 'very low' waste arisings and (and therefore the carbon benefit of what is recycled is relatively low).

Antrim Borough Council (92 kg of CO2e saved per capita) and Wrexham County Borough Council (108) performed the highest out of all councils in Northern Ireland and Wales respectively.

Speaking of the fact that over two thirds of Welsh councils scored a rating of 80 or more in the index (compared to one in eight English waste disposal authorities), Welsh Environment Minister, Alun Davies, said: “I welcome these findings, which show that our strong focus on household food waste collection is reaping environmental benefits.  

“Every Welsh local authority provides food waste recycling services, which are available to 93 per cent of the population.  

“Wales has set ambitious recycling targets, with the aim of moving towards zero waste by 2050.  Welsh councils are currently recycling 52 per cent of municipal waste and the Welsh Government works continually with councils to improve performance.  I congratulate Welsh councils and householders for their efforts.”

Tips for improving carbon score

According to Simon Hann of Eunomia, there are things LAs could do to improve their carbon score. These include (but are not limited to):

  • separately collecting food waste for anaerobic digestion (AD);
  • sending source-segregated recyclates to closed-loop recycling facilities; and
  • squeezing residual to make recycling the standard, and focusing on ‘key materials’ (metals, textiles, plastic).

However, Eunomia says it plans to update the Recycling Carbon Index on a regular basis and anticipates making further additions to ‘give a fuller picture’. Additional metrics may include each authority’s total waste arisings so that waste prevention performance is properly reflected.

James Fulford, Director at Eunomia, said: “Generally councils have had to rely on a crude comparison of recycling rates to measure the performance of their services. By publishing the Recycling Carbon Index, we hope that we will help authorities to better understand the carbon benefits that their services achieve. The report will also help waste managers to understand what they need to do if they want to improve the environmental performance of their own services.”

Read more about Eunomia’s carbon metric report, or request a full copy of the ‘Recycling Carbon Index’.