Local authority recycling in England, Wales and Northern Ireland resulted in 3.88 million tonnes of CO2 savings in 2014/15, the equivalent of flying from London to New York and back 1.5 million times.
According to the 4th edition of our Recycling Carbon Index, the leading carbon savers are Cheshire West and Chester Council. A high recycling rate and a source separated collection system that minimises the need for energy-intensive sorting of recyclable material meant the council achieved a saving of 109kg per person. That’s just ahead of the 108kg per person achieved in North Somerset, while Wales’s best performers were Ceredigion Council at 104kg.
Other leading authorities in England were Dorset Waste Partnership, Surrey and Buckinghamshire. In Wales, Ceredigion, Powys and Monmouthshire took the pole positions and in Northern Ireland, Omagh, Larne and Dungannon & South Tyrone are leading the way. Middlesbrough Council took the ‘biggest improver’ title after introducing a new collection system in 2014.
Across the board, the total CO2 saving is up over 20,000 tonnes from 2013/14, but the picture across the three nations is mixed. Wales maintains a significant lead over its neighbours, and 64% of Welsh councils improved their performance in 2014/15. The Welsh Government has focused on trying to improve recycling rates, and to harmonise how waste is collected across the country. Its efforts have returned some pretty impressive results, with no authorities in Wales now ranked as ‘Poor Performers’. The average CO2 saving from recycling in Wales is now 84kg per person.
Northern Ireland’s performance was the most improved, up 4.5% year on year. 77% of Northern Irish councils showed an upward trend and the total CO2 saving was 123,000 tonnes, or 68kg per capita. That enabled Northern Ireland to overtake England where just less than half of councils improved on the previous year’s results – but a similar number slipped back, leaving the CO2 savings at 67kg per capita.
Commenting on the Recycling Carbon Index, Eunomia’s Director, Joe Papineschi said:
“Progressive waste management policies, devolved governments and new collection systems are having a positive impact on the CO2 performance of recycling systems. Amidst some mixed results, there are some really outstanding stories. For example, councils collected 8% more food waste last year than in 2013/14 – despite only 37% offering separate food collections.”
Eunomia’s league table calculates the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that are prevented as a result of local residents’ recycling efforts. Recycling saves greenhouse gas emissions because it avoids waste being sent to rot in landfill or burned in an incinerator – and because it reduces the need for energy-intensive extraction of raw materials.
The index offers an alternative to tonnage-based recycling rates in assessing the performance of councils’ collection systems, the climate change impact of different materials varies hugely. An authority that collects a lot of green garden waste but less paper and packaging may have a high recycling rate but will be ranked lower in the Carbon Index because a high volume of carbon is saved from recycling materials such as metals, plastics and paper.