Recycling food waste helps us all tackle climate change, reveals report

The ground-breaking Carbon Metric, an innovative tool developed by Zero Waste Scotland, shows how waste reduction and sustainable waste management plays a critical role in the fight against climate change. It measures the whole-life carbon impacts of Scotland’s waste, from resource extraction and manufacturing emissions, right through to waste management emissions, regardless of where in the world these impacts occur. It is a pioneering way to measure the carbon impact of our waste, not just the amount that is recycled.

It shows that, in 2017, Scottish households reduced the amount of waste they produced, and recycled more of their waste than ever, resulting in the lowest carbon impacts for household waste since the Carbon Metric began measuring in 2011. 

For the first time, the Carbon Metric is being integrated directly into the official reporting on Scotland’s household waste data statistics published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), showing the 2017 carbon impacts of household food waste. It’s an important step reflecting the critical role the Carbon Metric has come to play in measuring and reducing the environmental impacts of Scotland’s waste.

Zero Waste Scotland is also today publishing the 2016 Carbon Metric (which contains data on both household and commercial & industrial waste).

Across both reports, findings show that:

  • Food waste contributes more to Scotland’s waste carbon impacts than any other waste type, so it’s important that we avoid wasting food, and recycle the waste we can’t avoid.
  • Food waste comprised 16% of household waste in 2017. Despite an overall reduction in household food waste, Scots recycled more food waste than ever before, up 7% from just one year earlier. In total, Scottish households prevented nearly 100,000 tonnes of food waste from going in the residual waste bin. The increase in recycling rates is due to more household food waste recycling collections being rolled out by Scotland’s local authorities – which is good news in terms of preventing food waste which could be turned into energy through anaerobic digestion rather than heading to landfill sites where it emits harmful greenhouse gases.

Importantly, as it includes data from households and commercial and industrial sectors, the 2016 report also demonstrates the disproportionate impact of household waste, on the carbon impacts of Scotland’s total waste. While household waste only made up 25% of Scotland’s waste by weight, it accounted for 55% of total waste carbon impacts. This makes preventing and recycling household waste especially important.

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said:

“The Carbon Metric clearly shows the progress we are making in Scotland on more and better recycling and the importance of that effort in tackling climate change. I’d like to thank everyone in Scotland for getting into the recycling habit and urge you to continue to do so, in the knowledge that you are making a real contribution in the vital battle against climate change.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, said:

“The fight against climate change really does begin at home. Our Carbon Metric, which for the first time now forms part of Scotland’s official reporting on waste, shows the crucial role householders can play in preventing waste and recycling more of their waste, particularly food waste, and how significant an impact that will have on reducing our climate changing emissions. This report gives extra resonance to our message during Recycle Week 2018, when we are urging Scots to recycle as much as they can from all around the home.

Terry A’Hearn, SEPA Chief Executive, added:

“Communities and businesses in Scotland are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of waste on carbon emissions and climate change, and today’s figures reflect this. But we can’t be complacent. SEPA’s One Planet Prosperity strategy reflects that Scotland is currently using the resources of three planets. So we need a 21st century environment protection agency to ensure Scotland lives within its means – and to help society tackle sources of pollution, over-use of natural resources and major environmental challenges such as climate change. The Carbon Metric is a useful tool which will help us target our efforts to deliver One Planet Prosperity.”

Further details on Scotland’s Carbon Metric, including summary report are available here.

To view the full local authority data please visit SEPA website here, and for all waste landfilled and waste incinerated within Scotland during 2017 visit here

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