Welsh County Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council has topped our Recycling Carbon Index for being the best recycler in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions saved through its efforts in 2017/18.

This year’s Recycling Carbon Index shows that council recycling schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland saved just over 4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, the equivalent to taking over 3 million cars off the road in the UK.

The index uses the most up-to-date waste data available to calculate the quantity of CO2 emissions each local authority is saving through their recycling collections. This allows local authorities to compare their performance and share best practice. Improving recycling services to increase the carbon savings being made across the UK will become ever more crucial in the years to come, as the UK strives to reach a net zero emissions target. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2018 report reiterated the importance of reducing levels of carbon emissions to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade.

The winners, Merthyr Tydfil, switched to multi-stream collections with separate food waste and reduced the size of its residual waste bins in 2015. The changes have resulted in the most effective collection service for reducing CO2 emissions across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with savings of 117kg of CO2 per person. Bridgend, another Welsh authority, came second with 114kg per person. Bridgend was also the most improved authority, with an increase of 19kg of carbon saved per person compared with its performance in 2016/17.

Our Principal Consultant Peter Jones, who authored the commentary that accompanies the index, said:

“Merthyr Tydfil’s performance improvement in the last year is considerable, and it’s a testament to the hard work of the council and local residents that it’s leading to such substantial environmental benefits. Welsh authorities have led the Carbon Index for several years, thanks to the challenging targets set by the Welsh Government and the support it has provided to councils.”

Of the three countries in the index, Northern Ireland had the biggest percentage improvement in 2017/18, with an 8.4% increase in the tonnage-based recycling rate bringing them to 48.1% overall. This was reflected in an increase in carbon savings of 3.2kg per person. Both England and Wales saw small decreases in their emissions performance, with average CO2 savings per person dropping by 0.7kg and 0.2 kg, respectively. On average, people in Wales now save 93kg of CO2 per year through recycling, compared with 79kg in Northern Ireland and 69kg in England.

A recent Defra consultation on harmonising waste services suggested that a carbon-based metric might be adopted for local authorities in England. Our Recycling Carbon Index provides the basis for such a metric. It 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 it reduces the need for energy-intensive extraction of raw materials.

Picture: Municipal recycling in England, Wales and N. Ireland reduced CO2 emissions by 4,029,415 tonnes equal to taking 3,222,323 cars off the road in the UK or 715,704 return flights from London to Sydney. Graphic from the Recycling Carbon Index 2017 -2018.