Waste sector emissions can be reduced by 75% by 2050 – CCC

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) says that waste sector emissions in the UK can be reduced by 75% by 2050, according to its ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ predictions for waste.

The CCC today (9 Dec) presents the first ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation.

Last year, the UK became the first major economy to make Net Zero emissions law. In its new landmark 1,000-page report, the CCC sets out the path to that goal over the next three decades, including the first ever detailed assessment of the changes that will result – and the key milestones that must be met.

The Sixth Carbon Budget is a clear message to the world that the UK is open for low-carbon business. It’s ambitious, realistic and affordable.

Climate Change Committee Chairman, Lord Deben, said: ‘The Sixth Carbon Budget is a clear message to the world that the UK is open for low-carbon business. It’s ambitious, realistic and affordable.

‘This is the right carbon budget for the UK at the right time. We deliver our recommendations to Government with genuine enthusiasm, knowing that Britain’s decisive zero-carbon transition brings real benefits to our people and our businesses while making the fundamental changes necessary to protect our planet.”

‘As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery. Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as President of the next UN climate talks.’

According to the CCC, the Sixth Carbon Budget can be met through four key steps:

  1. Take up of low-carbon solutions.People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions, as high carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low-carbon – largely electric. By 2040 all new trucks are low-carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
  2. Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies.UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the Prime Minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.
  3. Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities.The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.
  4. Land and greenhouse gas removals.There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13% of UK land today to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.

Waste sector

Regarding the waste sector, emissions mostly arise from decomposition of organic matter in landfills, wastewater treatment processes and combustion of residual waste in energy-from-waste (EfW) plants.

Waste sector emissions, now including EfW plants, accounted for 6% of UK GHG emissions in 2018 and were 63% below 1990 levels, according to the report.

Emissions have fallen significantly over the past two decades, due to reductions in waste being landfilled, although have not improved in the past few years due to a ‘plateau in UK recycling and significant growth in fossil emissions from EfW plants’, according to the report.

Mitigation options considered in the report include reduced landfill methane generation (through waste prevention, recycling and banning biodegradable waste from landfill), reduced residual waste sent to EfW (through waste prevention, recycling), increased landfill methane capture and oxidation, improvements at wastewater treatment and compositing facilities, and installation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) on EfW plants.

According to predictions set out by CCC’s ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ for waste, waste sector emissions can be reduced by 75% by 2050, through greater waste prevention, recycling, higher landfill methane capture rates, improvements to wastewater treatment and composting facilities, and adding CCS to EfW plants.

Waste policy

The report sets out nine policy recommendations consistent with meeting its ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ across the UK

It says without substantial increases in policy ambition, and new policies in a range of areas, waste will become an ‘increasing share of emissions’ and could still have ‘substantial’ emissions by 2050.

Given lead-times for changing waste management practices without a risk of unintended consequences, the waste sector requires ‘new policy urgently’.


  • Develop further policies to accelerate the transition to a circular economy
  • Food waste policy needs to align with agricultural policy
  • Biodegradable waste should be banned from landfill by 2025
  • Exporting of waste from the UK should stop by 2030
  • Recycling rate ambitions need to be raised
  • Energy-from-waste emissions continue to grow, but need to be constrained by waste prevention, re-use and recycling, and over time further mitigated via carbon capture and storage
  • Incentives for landfill operators to reduce methane emissions
  • Wastewater decarbonisation needs to be embedded into the sector’s investment framework.
  • Composting facilities should be incentivised to install forced aeration
  • Waste data needs improvement

Decarbonisation journey

John Scanlon, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said:‘We welcome the ambition shown by the Climate Change Committee in the sixth carbon budget and the recognition of the fundamental role the waste sector will play in improving the UK’s carbon performance.

‘The sector has been on its decarbonisation journey for over two decades and this next phase, supported by the upcoming reforms to EPR, consistent collections and DRS, will see us drive up recycling rates and reduce the carbon impact of treating the waste that remains.

Given the interplay between each stage of the waste hierarchy, it is important that the carbon impacts of the sector’s activities are considered in a holistic way, rather than considering activities such as recycling or recovery in isolation – SUEZ

‘Although our sector is ready to invest in the transition, planning, infrastructure and technological innovation that is needed to deliver the government’s ambitions, given the interplay between each stage of the waste hierarchy, it is important that the carbon impacts of the sector’s activities are considered in a holistic way, rather than considering activities such as recycling or recovery in isolation.

‘At SUEZ we’re already taking actions, both large and small, to transform our environmental performance and build on the significant progress we have already achieved.’

Strong and coherent leadership

Commenting on the publication of the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget, ADEPT President, Nigel Riglar said: ‘The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget is a vital document, providing a route map for action to 2030.

‘We need strong and coherent leadership from the government and a commitment to making the tough decisions – we all need to change the way we live.

We need strong and coherent leadership from the government and a commitment to making the tough decisions – we all need to change the way we live – ADEPT

‘ADEPT welcomes the Committee’s clear view that local authorities have the most important role to play in achieving the government’s net zero target and ensuring the transition to net zero must be fair and focused on people, place and community.

‘As we have set out with our partners in our updated Blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level published this week, much of this work has to be done at the local level. We agree that we need to ramp up action, particularly in the lead up to COP 26, but to do this place leaders need to be empowered with the right funding and resources to act effectively today, tomorrow and for each of the 3,300 or so days left in the decade.”

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