Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Carbon UK


Management of waste presents many opportunities for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions: methane from landfill sites makes up 3% of the UK's total emissions. Source reduction and recycling can reduce GHG emissions at the manufacturing stage. When waste is combusted, energy recovery displaces fossil fuel-generated electricity from utilities. Landfill methane emissions can be reduced by using gas recovery systems and by diverting organic materials from the landfill. Reducing, recycling and incineration all prevent methane emissions from landfill sites. This project represents an effort to consider the greenhouse gas impact of landfills in the UK by calculating landfill carbon budgets. These budgets will include carbon emissions associated with the collection, transportation of controlled waste to landfill sites, as well as methane and carbon dioxide emissions created during waste degradation. Carbon calculations were done in the context of:

  • The projected increase in waste arisings, estimated to be 3% per annum for municipal solid waste;
  • The changing composition of waste;
  • The effect of current and expected policy on the waste stream and waste management practices.

Project Report

Carbon UK forms part of the Biffaward programme on sustainable resource use, the aim of which is to provide accessible, well researched information about the flows of different resources through the UK economy. The report specifically deals with Carbon flows, bringing together into one coherent picture information on the different flows of carbon in the UK.

These flows originate from a wide variety of sources including the use of fossil fuels, natural cycles, landfill, and agriculture. The range is considerable and varied and is investigated within the context of the waste we produce and which goes to landfill. The work was funded as part of the Landfill Tax scheme, with additional support from TXU and Linacre College, University of Oxford. It contributes to the series, being orchestrated by BIFFA, on resource flows in the UK, under the Mass Balance approach.

A major finding of the report is that 3% of the UK's annual GHG emissions come from the methane produced by landfill sites. Exactly the same amount could be saved by extensive tree planting, by increasing domestic recycling and through a change to land use practices that release the carbon in the soil (e.g. ploughing). More effective reductions in GHG's would occur if all landfill methane could be captured, rather than the present 85%. Understanding how to be carbon managers and reduce our impact on the planet requires carefully balancing a wide range of knowledge, this report aims to go someway to address this.

Further Links

Carbon UK wins Biffaward Prize

The ECI has been selected as a joint winner of the Research and Development - Technology Category at the Biffaward Awards 2003, with its project 'Carbon Balance Evaluation', and Carbon UK report.

The judges particularly commented on the quality of the presentation and dissemination of Carbon UK . Richard Swannell, Deputy Programme Director at Envirowise and Judge for the Research and Development - Technology category praised the project in his report, saying: " This was a useful study presenting results in a very clear format. It clearly explains the issues facing UK society around climate change and it discusses some of the practical methods of alleviating global warming."

Martin Bettington, Chairman of Biffaward, said: " The quality of this project (and the biodiesel project)t were so high, it was impossible to chose between the two This project produced some interesting findings, which were well disseminated. The project's findings will contribute greatly to future climate change programmes."

Project details