Christian M. 3 min read

Waste Emissions Calculator: Reducing your business’s carbon footprint

Businesses can significantly reduce their carbon footprint by following the waste hierarchy and avoiding waste disposal in landfills.

Calculate how many kilograms of CO2 (and equivalent gases) can be avoided by recycling, composting and incinerating this waste before it reaches landfills using our Waste Emissions Calculator:

How are business waste carbon emissions calculated?

Business waste carbon emissions are calculated by assessing the greenhouse gases generated from waste production, transport and management.

Our waste emissions calculator simplifies this by taking you through the process, step-by-step, incorporating the following steps to calculate waste emissions in kg of CO2 per tonne of waste:

1. Identifying waste types

Each waste type has a different carbon footprint.

Our waste emissions calculator considers 12 broad types of waste that are commonly found in commercial waste in the UK.

2. Measure waste quantities

Quantify the amount of each type of waste generated, typically in tonnes. This is usually an estimation (commercial waste collection providers do this to give you a quote), but can also be weighted directly.

3. Determine disposal methods

Each disposal method has a different carbon footprint. For example, melting glass in furnaces is the most carbon-intensive component of glass recycling, while aerobic composting releases small amounts of CO2 during breakdown by microorganisms.

Landfilling waste emits the most greenhouse gases out of all methods because of methane emissions associated with the rotting of buried organic waste. There is a secondary impact due to the loss of easily recyclable materials like cardboard, glass and metals that would help reduce emissions by avoiding the need for virgin products (i.e. mining and processing of metal ores; cutting down trees for its pulp, etc).

The footprint of each method also includes the emissions of transporting the waste. Both waste collection from homes and businesses, and transport to, within and from the management facilities are counted.

4. Apply emissions factors

Emission factors represent the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of waste for each disposal method per waste type. In the UK, these can be obtained from WRAP’s carbon WARM emissions factors.

5. Calculate emissions

The emissions calculation can be absolute or relative.

Absolute waste emissions

(Waste Quantity × Emission Factor)

An absolute emissions calculation determines the total emissions of waste management, regardless of the waste management method. This method is best for businesses that need to take inventory of their carbon emissions across the entire business, including heating, electricity, transportation fleets, etc.

Relative waste emissions

(Waste Quantity × ( Emissions – Emission Factor of Landfilling))

A relative emissions calculation determines the carbon emissions per tonne of waste managed relative to the emissions of landfilling. This is best for businesses who want to analyse the emissions savings of following the waste hierarchy more closely.

In other words, it lets businesses determine their carbon avoidance from activities such as:

Our Waste Emissions Calculator uses this relative method, which we deem more useful for our readers.

Waste emissions calculator limitations

The calculator inherits the limitations of WRAP’s WARM methodology. These limitations are mostly due to the generalised nature of the variables and constants that are used in the calculations. For example:

  • Waste transportation emissions are estimated from average distances, typical waste lorries, etc.
  • Emissions from closed and open-loop recycling processes are estimated from the most typical processes.
  • Waste categories assume effective waste segregation. Common combined waste streams like Mixed Dry Recycling are not included.
  • The model does not include carbon emissions savings from high-priority waste minimisation and prevention.

The importance of reducing your waste carbon footprint

Reducing business waste carbon footprint brings environmental and economic benefits to the UK.

Environmental benefits

Waste is a major contributor to a business’s carbon emissions, accounting for 10-20%. Most of these are emissions associated with avoidable landfilling of recyclable materials that can no longer be recovered and organic waste that rots when buried to produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

As a result, businesses are increasingly under pressure from the UK government to reduce their carbon emissions. As a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement, the UK has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.

Additionally, landfilling causes many other environmental problems, such as groundwater and soil pollution, loud noise and putrid smells, which can affect nearby wildlife, crops and the quality of life of nearby citizens.

Economic benefits

Reducing the carbon footprint of business waste entails sending less waste to landfills, which reduces businesses’ landfill tax liabilities, saving them money.

In more general terms, the extra recycling, re-using, and repairing of materials requires switching to a circular economy, in which resources remain within the system for as long as possible, preferably in perpetuity.

Achieving this requires a complete supply chain makeover, changing the focus from extracting resources to ensuring they remain useful for as long as possible. This requires money to flow away from extractive industries and into greener industries.

Besides this general economic shift, businesses in some carbon-critical sectors like heavy industry and aviation have an allocated emissions reduction in line with the UK’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), so reducing emissions is to their financial benefit.

Finally, smaller businesses can issue avoidance carbon credits in Voluntary Carbon Markets and monetise on their waste avoidance strategies. These businesses can use our calculator to support their accounting, as the carbon WARM factors is recognised by multiple verifiers.

How much could you save?

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