How much waste do your city’s businesses produce? My council doesn’t know.

If you reside in England and have the strange desire to know how much waste the businesses of your city produce, I am sorry but you cannot satisfy it. Indeed, few data are published or even collected about the production, recycling or landfilling of local commercial waste.

This discovery came one month ago when I wrote an article for the Birmingham Mail about the low recycling rates of the city in comparison with the rest of the West Midlands. In fact it has been revealed to be the area with the lowest level of material recycled (almost 30%) of the region.

During the process of the study of every local authority data on waste in England, I stumbled on an interpretation issue of the figures provided by Defra (the English Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affair). In fact
I just calculated the total recycling rate including both the commercial and the households part, as I thought it was the right way to operate.

In this way Birmingham City resulted to be the worst of the Mainland (so islands excluded), while the recycling rate in the country considers just the households one. What the councils register is what they collect themselves from the businesses but this represents just a mere part of the total waste actually produced by economic activities. 

This is due to the fact that an unspecified number of businesses uses private contractors that deal with this kind of waste. But, considering that the Council almost not recycle what it collects (in orange in the table below), it is interesting indeed to know the total part of the businesses’ waste. And whether it is recycled! 

This led me to formulate a question to the Birmingham City waste managers: 

“Excluded the few cases of collection by the Council, what kind of information do you have about the commercial waste produced in the city?”

The answer was sharp: nothing

Birmingham is one of the most relevant industrial cities in the entire England and, considering the materials the Council collects from commercial activities is almost not recycled, it may be very interesting to know the  faith of its commercial/industrial waste. And, in case we knew the same information of all the local authorities, we shall be able to make some comparisons between them.

In synthesis this unknown quantity may be greatly recycled or totally thrown in a landfill, but, indeed, we don’t know. While the Defra’s website provides detailed datasets about the trends of household waste for every local authority in England. Additionally any contacts with both Defra and the Environment Agency haven’t left any hope:

“We do not hold specific information locally about commercial waste. We do have waste returns data on what waste was handled by what sites, but it isn’t specifically about commercial waste. Waste data is published on our website here“.

Which is not useful to our intent. However, we do have information about commercial waste, but just in a national and regional context and not updated, which is better than nothing. But we still don’t know how much commercial waste each English city produce out of what the Councils themselves collect.

The only way through which they track somehow this sector is by the licenses given to each private company that collect or deal with it.

I am still looking for some way to see how much commercial waste each local authority produces in England.
I keep this research open so in case you have any suggestion you are very welcome to comment this post. 
Are you from a different European country? What’s the recycling percentage of your city? 
This is an example about the process to find and visualize data about waste in England, but it may be applicable for other countries. 

Footprinted! Can we really know how sustainable are our goods?

                                    “Why all these chemicals? To do a laundry
                                        we used just hash!”, my grandmother

What’s the difference between a synthetic cosmetic and a natural one, perhaps homemade, in terms of sustainability? Is the laundry detergent that I have just bought more eco-friendly then a homemade one (for a great and cheap recipe read this post).

My curiosity has led me to search for answers to these questions. Surely almost all of us are sure that a less usage of synthetic compounds is good for the environment (and therefore for us), but what I was looking for was numbers that could confirm it.
Or some way to measure the sustainability of a product.
However, this time Google was unable ….

to help me, as a common method for these measurements has yet to be introduced.

The European Commission is working on a methodology for the calculation of the products’ environmental footprint, that will be accessible by companies. We should just wait for those that will use it and for their will to share the data.
But it will take years, as Michele Galatola, of the European Commission, explain in this interview.

During the waiting we could verify the eco-impact of the last plastic bottle we bought through different sources.
One of these is, a platform which publishes the carbon and water footprints, together with energy spent and waste produced for 782 cases.
Food, chemical compounds, trasportation, electricity, and others are part of the class of resources that are analysed in terms of carbon and water impact.
To be honest I am looking for an indicator that would include a more variety of elements together with these two, but I am afraid we should wait.

The one below is an example of a chart based on data about carbon emissions of some energy sources found in

Even though the products analysed are several, the website is still limited and in some cases not up-to-date, with some dated back to 1995. Additionally, like the example above, they are too generic and not geographically specific.
Due to this scarcity of important information, we cannot compare properly two complex products, such for instance a detergent made by Methylchlorothiazoline and Octylisothiazolinone (I am reading a label) and one made by a bar soap, borax and washing soda.

Another source is represented by the Carbon Trust, a sustainability advisor for companies, which has a database of 27,000 footprints.
Being a private company working with private companies it is unlikely that it would release publicly some of those, but I have sent a FOI anyway in case of mercy.

It is worth to explain that the European Commission intention, and the Carbon Trust one, is to provide a methodology to the companies that will take into consideration “all activities associated with the goods and services of the organisation  from a supply chain perspective (from extraction of raw materials, through use, to final waste management options)“.

However, how interesting and exiting would be to have a platform on which we could just write a list of elements taken from a label and just calculate by ourselves the environmental footprint of something?
Meanwhile, we might use our common sense and have some fun doing (Why not?) some homemade household product.