World leaders at the Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow are currently investigating strategies to tackle climate change in an urgent attempt to limit global warming temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The crux of climate change rests on understanding carbon emissions and how we can actively reduce and manage it. But in order to do so, we need to go back to the basics and understand what makes up a carbon footprint.
What is a carbon footprint?
Firstly, it’s a good idea to understand what a carbon footprint is and what the quantification method is. Everything we do, from commuting to work, buying groceries and even cooking our dinner has an impact on the environment. These are normalized with emission factors, which convert the activities into equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2e) which allows us to aggregate our total footprint and determine our impact on the environment. Naturally, the source of the energy produced in the country has a big impact on this footprint. For example citizens in countries with carbon intensive energy (like burning fossil fuels) will have larger footprint than those in countries with renewable energy sources.
What is the total impact of waste on carbon footprint?
Again, depending on where you are in the world, and how much waste you produce, the impact of waste on your carbon footprint will vary. For a medium-income individual, who produces about 1 kg of waste per day, and is a low to medium meat eater, the carbon footprint from waste will make up between 5% and 10% of their total carbon footprint. Therefore, changes in responsible consumption and choosing to buy products in packaging which can be recycled can make a significant impact on your own carbon footprint.
HOW DOES WASTE AND RECYCLING FIT IN?
Any time you throw something away it will either be recycled or disposed of. If it is recycled, there is still energy needed to recycle, upcycle or downcycle that grade back into a product. However, that product can then be used as a product. If it is disposed of, then a brand new product will need to be made from virgin materials. Depending on the grade, the savings on recycling compared to remanufacture from virgin material will vary considerably. For example, metal grades (such as aluminium) are extracted from the earth using high amounts of energy, so recycling metals (like beverage cans) usually has the largest tCO2e savings per kilogram. In general though, there is a 35% saving in tCO2e for recycling compared to normal disposal in a landfill.
Do you know your carbon savings?
It’s important for organizations to start monitoring carbon savings, and to ensure that they are on track to meet their net zero targets (Read: Recommendations for companies in setting and implementing robust net zero targets).
At Don’t Waste, our clients are able to easily monitor and report on their environmental savings generated from their recycling and avoidance activities in live time, through our advanced CEP portal. Waste generated from operations falls under Scope 3 emissions, and our systems are able to provide transparency on waste movement, ensuring that our clients know where their waste ends up.
Linus Naik, Group Sustainability and Business Development Manager. ()