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Studies show managing waste well cuts carbon

Three new reports have shown how waste can be managed to reduce its impact on climate change.

The reports produced for the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) anticipate the greenhouse gas effects of the UKs main waste streams between 2005 and 2031 and assess the different ways of dealing with household garden and food waste.

Environment minister Ben Bradshaw said: To reduce the environmental impact of our rubbish, UK waste management is already moving away from reliance on landfill towards minimisation, re-use, recycling and energy recovery, with the aim of moving as far up the waste hierarchy as is sensible in each case.

This latest research provides valuable information on how to reduce the cost and maximise the benefits of this shift. It will enable us to build on current learning and lead the way in developing systems that minimise our impact on the environment and on dangerous climate change.

The report Carbon Balances and Energy Impacts of the Management of UK Wastes was produced by ERM and Golder Associates for Defra. While the report Managing Biowastes from Households in the UK: Applying Life-cycle Thinking in the Framework of Cost-benefit Analysis was a Eunomia report for WRAP. Dealing with Food Waste in the UK was also a Eunomia report for WRAP.

What the reports say?

This ERM report shows recycling has significant benefits over landfill, particularly in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions for non-ferrous metals, plastics, textiles, paper and card and food and garden waste (particularly by anaerobic digestion that produces heat and power).

For waste wood, the research showed that both energy recovery and recycling bring environmental benefits. In general, energy recovery is shown to offer a greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than recycling (although this depends on the type of waste wood, level of contamination and whether reuse is possible).

Recycling is currently the best environmental option for paper and card. Glass was not covered as it is a small proportion of the total waste streams with relatively high recycling rates.

The Eunomia biowaste research shows that there can be real cost and environmental gains from collecting garden and food waste separately from each other. This enables the processing costs to be minimised and can increase the amount of food collected. The best environmental impact comes from anaerobic digestion.

The Eunomia food waste report suggests that if the 5.5 million tonnes of food waste in the UK were targeted for separate collection and anaerobic digestion, between 477 and 761 GWh/year of electricity would be generated enough to meet the needs of up to 164,000 households.

The results from the reports are contributing to Defras revised waste strategy that is due to be published shortly.

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