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Greenhouse gas emissions have been cut 64% since 1990 by the waste industry, putting them above all the other sectors.


According to an article recently published in Recycling and Waste world, the waste sector has cut their emissions by more than any other industry sector. This is a big achievement for the waste industry however, according to a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) the government believes that stronger incentives can be implemented.

The CCC published the 2012 Annual Progress Report (Meeting the Carbon Budgets – 2012 Progress Report to Parliament), which looks at emissions trends over the past year and also evaluates underlying progress in implementing carbon-reduction measures and policies in the UK.

In chapter 7 of the 2012 Annual Progress Report it discusses the progress of reducing emissions from waste, the emissions produced by the waste industry are mainly methane emissions which arise due to the decomposition of biodegradable waste in landfill sites in the absence of oxygen.

Emissions from waste also arise due to wastewater treatment and incineration of wastes.

The calculation of the emissions which have been reduced is based on the time scale from 1990 up until the latest year of data available, which is 2010. It was recorded that the emissions fell by 3% in 2010 totalling at 64% decrease since 1990. The CCC stated that this marked a “longer-term trend” in falling emissions.

As a results of reduction in the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill and also an improved rate of methane capture at landfill sites, emissions have decreased largely.

Further ambitions aim to reduce emissions by 22% in 2010 (72% relative to 1990), these will reflect a further 25% reduction in the amount of biodegradable waste landfilled in 2020 relative to 2010, this is required in order to meet UK targets under the EU Landfill Directive.

The report compiled by the CCC also implies that there is the possibility to stretch these further opportunities for waste prevention and recycling and other disposal methods such as; anaerobic digestions and composting.

It was also said that the government should consider increased ambitions for the next decade.

If further ambitions are implemented to go beyond the 72% decrease by 2020 it can be helped by restricting certain materials going to landfill; for example wood, textiles and paper separate collection of food waste was also flagged as a route to greater emissions savings.

The CCC said:

“We recommend that the government considers increasing its ambitions for emissions reduction from waste,” the report concluded. “In particular, specific strategies for reducing both food and paper/card waste sent to landfill should be developed.”

This Annual Progress Report is the fourth report to government on the progress that the UK is making towards tackling climate change and also meeting the legally binding targets under the Climate Change Act to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.

What has driven a reduction of emissions in the waste sector?

The main driver of reduced emissions from landfill has been the UK Landfill Tax which was introduced in 1996.

Landfill site operators pay this tax, they pass on the costs as gate fees to Local Authorities and businesses, this then creates and incentive for them to seek means to reduce the waste they send to landfill.

There has been an increase in the initial rate of £7 per tonne to £64 per tonne; this will apparently rise to £80 per tonne by 2014/15.

The Landfill Trading Allowance Scheme introduced in 2005, the Landfill Trading Allowance Scheme allocated allowances to local authorities to meet UK targets under the Landfill Directive.

The value of these allowances has been far lower than the landfill tax for example: £5 per tonne in 2009/2010. However, due to the Landfill Tax being a much better diversion for landfill the scheme is set to be abolished.

Other initiatives have also played a role in the reduction of emissions from the waste industry.

There is more that can still be done and despite UK emissions falling by 7% last year only 0.8% of this can be linked to climate change measures, according to the CCC, in 2011 mild weather was “the biggest single driver” of emissions reductions alongside falling income and rising energy prices.

The Committee warned that the rate of underlying progress is too slow and “only a quarter of that required meet future carbon budgets”.

David Kennedy, CCC chief executive said as the economy recovers it will become increasingly difficult to keep the country on track to meet its carbon budgets unless there is a swift move from planning change to actually delivering it.

“There are some good initiatives in the pipeline, but more is needed to improve the investment climate, and put in place incentives so that people and businesses can act. Key policies require further clarification, and gaps in the policy framework need to be addressed.”


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