A new method of ranking local authorities’ waste collections in terms of carbon emissions is claimed to be a more valid metric.
Ricardo-AEA has developed the carbon tool as an alternative to WasteDataFlow, in which councils log the weight of the waste they reuse, recycle or compost as a percentage of the total weight of waste they collect (%RRC).
Instead, the sustainability consultancy calculates the level of carbon emissions produced by the waste collected by each council.
The tool records the weight of material that is reused, recycled, composted, used for energy recovery and sent to landfill. Each weight is multiplied by the appropriate carbon emission factor for that material and waste management option. The contributions from each material fate are summed and that total is finally divided by the total tonnage handled, to provide each council with an Average Emission Factor (AEF).
When comparing councils ranked by performance by weight and performance by carbon, the correlation between them is disparate.
There is no big surprise for the carbon tool’s top three councils of South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and Denbighshire, as they also rank at two, three and four respectively using the WasteDataFlow system.
But only one of the remaining AEF-ranked top 10 local authorities makes it into the best 100 using the %RRC measure.
Authorities that sit higher up in the carbon league table than the %RRC rankings may be due to local environment factors including housing stock and green areas.
Ricardo-AEA’s practice director for resource efficiency and waste management, Adam Read, said: “We expected the league tables to be affected quite significantly, but not to this degree. Those urban authorities that had a low recycling rate are higher up in our table. They may have access to EfW plants so their reliance on landfill is much lower, so their overall impact is less.”
The more accurate detail of councils’ environmental impact provided by using the carbon tool could help them financially by preventing unnecessary expenditure, according to Read.
He added: “The tool is something that would benefit local authorities when planning their next collection or disposal strategies. Our results could prevent these authorities from spending a lot of money on new recycling vehicles, containers and community engagement when there would be no significant environmental benefit.
“It gives local authorities the opportunity to assess the real environmental impact, not just recycling rates.”