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BLOG - Let's talk Net Zero Carbon - By Tony McPartland

BLOG - Let's talk Net Zero Carbon - By Tony McPartland

Tony McPartland, Managing Director of WCRS, dives into the hot topic of Net Zero Carbon

Net Zero Carbon is a subject which is proving to be a hot topic, not only in the mainstream media and in the Waste and Resources sector, but also across the wider business environment.

But what is it all about and what does it mean for businesses going forward?

I aim to summarise some of the key points (using as a little jargon as possible) so businesses can understand the possible future impacts and how we can help to ensure those involved are making the rights choices when it comes to the future management of their waste resources.

What does it all mean?

Well, let us go back a step.

Climate Change has been a dominant subject in the media and programs such as David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet, outlines the challenges the world is facing.

Climate change refers to the effects of Global Warming, the heating up of our planet, which is largely due to human activities, such as industrialisation and the use of fossil fuels alongside widespread deforestation. The outcome of this heating effect is more and more extreme weather conditions alongside the melting of the polar ice, which presents a clear and present threat to the future of our planet as we see it.

There is an opportunity to slow down the Climate Change process and in 2015, The Paris Agreement was established, a binding international treaty, its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial level.

A key contributor to global warming is greenhouse gases, which are released into the earth’s atmosphere from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels. The most prolific greenhouse gas is Carbon Dioxide and hence we are getting to the crux of matter. The key factor in meeting the 1.5 Celsius target, is reducing global carbon emissions to net zero by mid-century.

In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to pass a law to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

What is Net Zero Carbon?

So, in a nutshell, net zero refers to a balance between the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted and the amount removed from the atmosphere. This can be achieved in two ways, by reducing existing emissions and proactively removing greenhouse gases.

When the amount of carbon emissions produced are cancelled out by the amount removed, the UK will meet net-zero emissions.

But what does it all ‘actually’ mean?

It means that over the next 30 years there will be numerous changes to how we live our lives. These changes will be led through government policy and investment in green technologies. Changes could range from switching our cars from petrol and diesel to electric, to an even greater emphasis on reducing the impact of the waste we generate.

Where does the waste industry come in?

A recent Environmental Services Association (ESA) webinar for members highlighted some of the key challenges the waste industry faces in meeting Net Zero Carbon over the coming decades.

The UK produces around 200 million tonnes of waste per year and contributes around £8bn to the UK economy. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its document, The Sixth Carbon Budget indicating the waste and resources sector contributes 6% of the UK’s carbon emissions, however since the 90s the industry has made significant progress in reducing carbon emissions (by around 70%) largely due to diversion of waste from landfill.

The ESA are taking a leading role in a sector wide approach to Net Zero Carbon to provide a strategy to support to their members as they seek to take on the challenge of meeting the requirements of Net Zero Carbon over the coming years.

No doubt, Trade Associations, and environmental teams from sectors up and down the UK, are working on their own strategies to tackle the issues and the challenges that lay ahead in decarbonisation. What can be said, is that waste management will play vital role in the UK reaching Net Zero Carbon by 2050.

What do waste managers need to consider?

There are legislative changes in the pipeline which will affect how waste is managed over the coming years and areas in which further intervention can be speculated. Some of these, as well as supporting the net-zero carbon agenda, are a natural progression of legislation to drive further recycling and recovery of waste, such as mandatory food waste collections which are due to come into effect in 2023 and some will be a direct result of the UK’s commitment to meet Net Zero Carbon.

A climate change report published in 2019 by the CCC advised the government to implement a ban on biodegradable waste being sent to landfill by 2025 and to invest in low-carbon energy technologies.

Other direct contributors to carbon emissions within the waste sector include emissions from waste processing facilities and waste collection vehicles.

For all these emissions to be created, waste itself is needed, so evidently waste prevention is another key component, in reducing carbon emissions.

What are we doing at WCRS?

We recognise that over the coming years, bid and procurement managers will have to plan for this transition and will be exploring frameworks and science-based targets to support the transition process. As a business we will be taking steps to engage with our supply chain to fully understand the roadmap towards decarbonising their operations.

We intend to conduct a series of surveys to gauge current awareness and commitment to Net Zero Carbon over the coming year, so that we can be fully engaged in the conversation and support bridging the gaps between what customers are demanding and what solutions can be delivered.

I, personally, am committed to ensuring that we as a business within the sector, take an active stance on Carbon and assisting in Net Zero achievement. WCRS will be launching its own Carbon Reduction targets in the coming months, with the ultimate aim being, the business achieves Carbon Neutral accredited status, putting us in a good position to support our clients to work towards the same standards.

There is no doubt that major change is ahead, waste legislation is going to accelerate and as a business we intend to be at the forefront of information, so we can support our customers in making responsible decisions when it comes to the management of their waste and resources.

Sources of information and further reading

https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/net-zero-target
https://resource.co/article/climate-change-report-recommends-landfill-ban-biodegradables
https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/sixth-carbon-budget/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24021772

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