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The University of Southampton

Research project: Assessing the Carbon Footprint of Wales' Municipal Solid Waste Management

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Waste management contributes around 3.2% to the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and generates signification emissions of methane (CH4). As efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of future climate change increase, the reduction of GHG emissions from waste management has become a priority area for policy-makers. As part of a broader Sustainable Development Scheme, One Wales: One Planet, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has outlined a Municipal Sector Plan that promotes sustainable development in the municipal solid waste (MSW) management industry and has set two key targets for 2050; achieving zero waste and reducing net national GHG emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels. Furthermore, the WAG’s Climate Change Strategy for Wales sets a target for a 3% reduction in emissions per year until 2050 – of which waste management is expected to contribute an annual 0.21% reduction or 0.66 MtCO2-equivalent. For these ambitious targets to be met, it is essential for the WAG to be able to accurately assess the GHG impacts – known commonly as the ‘carbon footprint’ – associated with the existing MSW management system so that GHG mitigation opportunities can be identified and to enable comparisons with alternative systems and technologies to be drawn.

The technique of carbon footprinting has risen in prominence and popularity in recent years as a means of identifying contributions to, and assisting in mitigating the effects of, climate change. A carbon footprint can be defined as “The total amount of carbon dioxide and methane emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest”.

In the past, estimations of GHG emissions from the existing Welsh MSW management industry have relied heavily on non-geographically-specific, aggregated national or international life cycle inventory (LCI) datasets that have hindered the accuracy of their outputs. Furthermore, these studies have lacked system completeness, with many MSW management processes excluded from calculations. As such, there is a need for a more accurate and complete estimation of the carbon footprint of the existing Welsh MSW management system.

The University of Southampton’s Carbon Management Group will conduct pioneering work to estimate the carbon footprint of Welsh MSW management and compare this with alternative systems. A LCI will be complied comprising quantitative datasets collected directly from facilities involved in the management of Wales’ MSW. Additional data will be collected from UK- and European-based waste management facilities to form technology-specific average and best available technology (BAT) datasets. The life cycle assessment modelling tool EaseTech - developed by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) - will be used as the principle method for calculating the carbon footprint. The methodology is consistent with the framework developed by CMG and will be fully compliant with the forthcoming BSI standard on carbon footprinting as well as the technical framework for LCA as defined in ISO 14040. This approach allows for the calculation of location-, process-, technology- and national-specific emissions data as well as the generation and modelling of alternative scenarios, thus facilitating strategy and policy options to be evaluated based upon modelled data.

Outputs and outcomes of the research are intended to help inform policy- and decision-making at multiple scales – the WAG (national) as well as individual local authorities (regional) – within Wales and will help facilitate Wales to meet its objective to achieve its long term objectives of zero waste and an 80% emissions reduction by 2050 and be a world leader in managing its contribution to climate change.

Related research groups

Carbon Management Research Group
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