Recycling rates risk falling under Scotland's carbon metric

Household recycling rates across Scotland could plummet in the short-term once the country's new carbon metric comes into force in 2013, research has shown.

Modelling work carried out by Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) using real data found that applying the carbon metric to one scottish council's recycling rate of 38% resulted in it falling to 28%.

Speaking at a 2degrees webinar yesterday (22 June), ZWS environmental analyst, Kimberley Pratt, said the large drop was due to the type of materials being prioritised and collected under the current weight-based target system.

"If [the council] is going to reach its 50% target by 2013 then there is still a bit of work to do," she warned, adding that the council's efforts needed to centre around materials with a higher carbon impact going forward.

"For that particular local authority, if they focus on carbon and increase textiles recycling to 90% and send 90% of food waste to anaerobic digestion, they could increase their carbon metric recycling rate to 65%," she said.

Under the new metric system, tonnage-based targets will be weighted by applying a 'carbon factor' to the materials collected, which takes into account the environmental benefits of recycling them over sending them to landfill.

If councils go after materials with a higher weighted carbon ranking, such as textiles, cans, PET and small WEEE items, their recycling performance should improve.

The new measurement system is still very much a work in progress. A carbon metric technical steering group has been set up to gather new data and adjust the scheme if necessary. More understanding is also needed around end-of-life choices and the impact of reuse and energy-from-waste.

While the carbon metric will only apply to household waste initially, it is likely to eventually include the commercial and construction waste streams too.

Maxine Perella


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