As part of DEFRA's Waste and Resources Evidence Programme, we have undertaken the project ‘Carbon Balances and Energy Impacts of the Management of UK Waste Streams’ (WR0602), and evaluated it through peer review. An additional project, ‘Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Biowaste Management’ (WR0210), is in the final stages of completion following peer reviewers' comments.
The DEFRA-funded Waste and Resources Programme (WRAP) has carried out a range of studies in this area which are available on its website:
WRAP (2006) Environmental Benefits of Recycling;
WRAP (2008) Life Cycle Assessment of Mixed Waste Plastic Management Options;
WRAP (2008) Life Cycle Assessment of Plasterboard;
WRAP (2008) CO2 Impacts of Transporting the UK's Recovered Paper and Plastic Bottles to China.
WRAP's research has found that for most materials, the emissions from transportation are far outweighed by the savings from processes avoided by recycling. This is true even when exporting materials to the far east.
The Environment Agency carried out research into emissions from recycling plant and fuel consumption for collecting waste in relation to its life cycle software, Waste and Resource Assessment Tool for the Environment (WRATE), which uses the data to estimate the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from different waste management systems.
The Carbon Trust, in association with DEFRA, has co-sponsored the development of PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 2050—specification for the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services—through the British Standards Institution. This specification details a method for the assessment of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases arising from all processes in the supply chain of goods and services, which includes recycling and the transport activities. Through its application, businesses can understand the carbon impact of their products and ultimately follow this up with tangible ways to cut carbon emissions across the supply chain.
As part of the development and implementation of PAS 2050, the Carbon Trust has carried out research into the different methods used to measure these emissions, and sought to understand different stakeholder views of these methods; however, the Carbon Trust has not undertaken or evaluated specific research into the CO2 emissions from recycling and transportation of recyclable waste. Following the publication of PAS 2050, the Carbon Label Company has carried out further research into different methods of measuring emissions from recycling and transportation of recyclable waste to support its implementation.