How Scotland plans to reach net-zero in recycling and waste

26 Oct 2023

Quantification of greenhouse gas emissions from recycling and waste management in Scotland

Report for: Scottish Environmental Services Association (ESA)

The Scottish Environmental Services Association (ESA) commissioned Ricardo to understand the carbon emissions originating from the recycling and waste sector within Scotland, quantifying the current level of the direct, indirect and avoided greenhouse gas emissions. The study compared the Scottish results with the findings from a similar study undertaken by Ricardo investigating carbon emissions generated from the recycling and waste management sector covering the United Kingdom. This work established the UK's recycling and waste sector’s baseline emissions and the actions required to get the sector to net-zero by 2040 at the latest.

The study Ricardo carried out for Scotland has the same system boundaries as the UK covering the study, allowing the comparison of the Scottish results to the UK outputs. It was found that in the baseline year 2018, the Scottish recycling and waste management sector was responsible for generating 4.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2-e) emissions, equivalent to 13% of the sector’s total UK emissions, this is also equivalent to approximately 11% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Continuing the study of the baseline year of 2018, the largest proportion of these emissions (2.2 million tonnes CO2-e) occurred due to the recycling processes. However, through the sectors activities they were responsible for avoiding 3 million tonnes of CO2-e emissions primarily through recycling and recovery activities, resulting in Scotland’s waste industry net-emissions being 1.5 million tonnes of CO2-e. This is equivalent to approximately 6% of the UK recycling and waste sector’s avoided emissions.

Key findings from the report:

  • Scotland’s scope 1 and 2 emissions related with waste management activities account for 13% of the UK’s corresponding scope 1 and 2 emissions
  • Emissions from Scotland’s waste management activities accounted for 11% of Scotland’s total GHG emissions in the year 2018
  • Emissions from fuel consumption and processes (Scope 1) account for 76% of the total scope 1 and 2 emissions from waste management in Scotland
  • Most scope 1 and 2 emissions arise due to the recycling processes
  • Scotland’s avoided emissions account for 6% of the UK’s avoided emissions (compared to 13% scope 1 and 2 emissions). This can be attributed to the fact that the waste tonnages reporting format differs among the nations, Scotland sends less waste to EfW compared to the rest of the UK and the composition of waste recycled does not result in high avoided emissions
  • Most avoided emissions (91%) occur from recycling.

You can download the full report here.

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