Waste generated in operations emissions (Scope 3 Category 5)

🛠️ Cette page est en cours de traduction en Français.
🛠️ Diese Seite wird derzeit ins Deutsche übersetzt.
Waste generated in operations emissions, Scope 3 category 5, are emissions associated with the waste generated by a company's operations that are disposed of, treated, or recycled off-site.

Waste generated in operations emissions, classified under Scope 3 Category 5 in the GHG Protocol, represent the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the waste generated by a company's operations that are disposed of, treated, or recycled off-site. These emissions are considered indirect emissions since they do not originate from sources owned or directly controlled by the reporting company, contrasting with Scope 1 direct emissions and Scope 2 indirect emissions from purchased energy.

Understanding the emissions associated with waste generated in operations, classified as Scope 3 Category 5 under the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, is paramount for companies committed to sustainability. This category focuses on indirect emissions from the disposal and treatment of solid waste and wastewater. The company does not directly control these activities, but they occur within its value chain and are managed by third parties. 

Scope 3 Category 5 contains a variety of waste management practices, including landfill disposal, incineration, composting, waste-to-energy processes, and recycling. Each disposal method contributes to a company's indirect carbon footprint by emitting greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4, and, in some cases, HFCs from specific waste streams like refrigeration and air conditioning units.

This category's unique aspect lies in accounting for future emissions from waste generated within the reporting year, highlighting the importance of long-term waste management strategies. By understanding and effectively managing Scope 3 Category 5 emissions, companies can significantly enhance their sustainability initiatives, reduce their environmental impact, and improve their overall carbon footprint.

What is waste generated in operations emissions (Scope 3 Category 5)?

Scope 3 emissions, as defined by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, encompass indirect emissions associated with a company’s value chain that are neither owned nor directly controlled by the company. Within this broad category, Category 5—waste generated in operations—focuses on the emissions from the disposal and treatment of waste that originate from the company's owned or controlled operations but are managed by third parties.

Scope 3 category 5 emissions include all indirect emissions resulting from the disposal and treatment of waste in the following types:

  • Solid waste includes general operational waste, ranging from non-hazardous office waste to industrial by-products requiring specialised disposal techniques.
  • Wastewater: Emissions linked to wastewater treatment generated from company operations are processed at external facilities.

Waste treatment and disposal methods covered under Scope 3 Category 5

The GHG Protocol specifies several treatment and disposal methods that fall under Category 5 emissions:

  • Landfill disposal: Emissions from decomposing waste in landfills, including those that capture and utilise landfill gas to generate energy.
  • Incineration: Emissions from waste combustion reduce volume, destroy hazardous components, and sometimes generate energy.
  • Composting: Biological decomposition of organic waste reduces landfill use and produces usable compost.
  • Waste to Energy (WtE) or Energy from Waste (EfW): Processes that involve burning waste to produce electricity or heat, thereby reducing the volume of waste and generating energy.
  • Recycling and recovery: Processes that convert waste materials into new products, reducing the need for raw materials and the energy consumption associated with producing new materials.
  • Wastewater treatment: The treatment of liquid waste produced by operations, including physical, chemical, and biological processes, to meet regulatory standards before discharge or reuse.

Scope of emissions accounting

Scope 3 Category 5 emissions are concerned explicitly with the emissions from the treatment and disposal of waste at facilities not owned or controlled by the reporting company. It falls under Scope 3 because these emissions are indirect and result from activities outside the company's direct control. The waste treatment services are typically purchased from third-party providers, classifying them as an upstream activity in the reporting company's value chain.

In contrast, any waste treatment and disposal conducted at facilities owned or controlled by the reporting company directly contribute to Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions:

  • Scope 1 includes direct emissions from owned or controlled sources within the company.
  • Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by the company’s owned or controlled facilities.

Thus, for emissions accounting purposes, it's essential to differentiate between waste processed at third-party facilities (Scope 3) and internally (Scope 1 and Scope 2). This distinction ensures emissions are accurately categorised and reported in compliance with the GHG Protocol guidelines.

Learn more about Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.

Future emissions consideration

Category 5 also uniquely accounts for future emissions from waste treated or disposed of within the reporting year, based on the lifetime treatment or decomposition of the waste. This forward-looking aspect ensures that companies consider the long-term impacts of their waste management practices.

Understanding the specifics of Scope 3 Category 5 is crucial for companies aiming to fully grasp their environmental impact and identify strategic opportunities for reducing emissions in their operations and broader value chain. This category highlights the significance of indirect emissions through waste management, often a substantial but under-recognised component of a company’s overall carbon footprint.

How can companies calculate waste generated in operations emissions (Scope 3 Category 5)?

Calculating emissions from waste generated in operations (Scope 3 Category 5) is a complex but essential task for businesses seeking to enhance their sustainability strategies and meet decarbonisation targets. The process requires a structured approach, combining detailed data collection, systematic calculation methods, and comprehensive documentation and review practices.

Data collection: The foundation

  • Identify waste types: Companies must catalogue the different kinds of waste produced during their operations, including categories such as solid, liquid, hazardous, and non-hazardous waste. This step is crucial for understanding the scope of waste management needed.
  • Measure waste quantities: Measuring the volume or weight of each type of waste generated is essential, as these figures are fundamental for applying the correct emission factors later in the process.

Choosing the proper carbon accounting method

Step 1: Select the primary estimation approach 

Companies should begin by selecting a primary approach based on how they can best measure and categorise their waste. 

  • The volume-based method estimates emissions based on the total volume or mass of waste generated. It provides a straightforward estimation but may need more detail to capture variations due to different treatment technologies or efficiencies. 
  • The activity-based method offers more precision by focusing on specific waste treatment activities such as incineration or recycling. Emissions are calculated based on the processes and technologies used, allowing for a detailed assessment of environmental impacts. 

Step 2: Choose a specific calculation method 

After selecting a primary estimation approach, companies should choose a specific calculation method that best suits their data availability and accuracy needs:

  • Supplier-specific method: This method involves collecting direct emissions data (scope 1 and scope 2) from third-party waste treatment providers. It is the most accurate but depends on the cooperation of suppliers and the availability of their emissions data. 
  • Waste-type-specific method: This method uses emission factors tailored to specific waste types and waste treatment methods. It balances detailed granularity and practicality, which is especially useful when supplier-specific data isn't available. 
  • Average-data method: Estimates emissions based on the total waste directed to each disposal method (e.g., landfill, incineration) using average emission factors for those methods. This method is practical when specific data is scarce but introduces more uncertainty to the emission estimates. 

Additional considerations 

  • Emission types: Depending on the sort of waste, different greenhouse gases may be emitted, such as CO2 from the degradation of carbon contained in waste, CH4 from the decomposition of organic materials in landfills or waste-to-energy technologies, and HFCs from the disposal of refrigeration and air conditioning units. 
  • Transportation of waste: Companies can optionally report emissions from waste transportation by referencing Category 4 (Upstream transportation and distribution), which provides specific methodologies for calculating these emissions.

Applying emission factors

  1. Select appropriate emission factors: Use established databases such as the GHG Protocol, EPA's WARM (Waste Reduction Model), or DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) to find accurate emission factors that correspond to each waste type and treatment/disposal method.
  2. Perform calculations:
    • Segregate waste: Divide waste into categories according to the emissions factors database.
    • Calculate individually: Apply the respective emission factors to each waste category to calculate individual emissions.
    • Aggregate: Sum up the emissions from all waste categories to get the total Scope 3 Category 5 emissions.

Documentation and review

  • Record keeping: Maintain detailed records of all data and methodologies used in the calculation process. This practice ensures consistency in reporting and facilitates third-party verification if necessary.
  • Continuous improvement: As emission factors and waste management technologies evolve, regularly review and update the calculation methods and data to refine the accuracy of emission reporting.

Calculating Scope 3 Category 5 emissions is a dynamic process that requires attention to detail, transparency, and an ongoing commitment to improvement. By establishing a robust framework for these calculations, companies can comply with reporting standards and identify critical areas for reducing waste and enhancing operational efficiencies, thereby advancing their sustainability objectives.

For what industries are Scope 3 Category 5 critical?

Scope 3 Category 5 of the GHG Protocol addresses emissions from waste generated in operations, a critical aspect for companies committed to comprehensive environmental sustainability. This category is particularly significant for industries where the nature and volume of waste can have profound implications for environmental impact, regulatory compliance, and sustainable operations management.

Industries most impacted by waste generated in operations emissions

  • Manufacturing: The manufacturing sector is known for its intensive use of materials and often produces significant quantities of solid and hazardous waste. Disposing and treating these wastes carries substantial environmental stakes and potential emissions.
  • Healthcare: Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies handle specialised waste streams, including biohazardous and chemical waste. These require specific treatment and disposal methods to prevent harmful emissions.
  • Construction: The construction industry generates a large amount of debris and material waste, including concrete, wood, and metals, which must be managed to mitigate environmental impacts effectively.
  • Retail and consumer goods: This sector contributes notably to waste emissions through the packaging and disposal of products at the end of their life cycle, requiring careful management to reduce waste volume and emissions.
  • Food and beverage: Organic waste is prevalent in this industry, and if not managed properly, it can significantly contribute to methane emissions. This highlights the need for effective organic waste treatment strategies like composting or anaerobic digestion.

Benefits of calculating Scope 3 Category 5 emissions

  • Regulatory compliance: Many industries are subject to stringent waste management and emissions reporting regulations. Effective tracking and managing Scope 3 emissions are essential to meet legal standards and avoid penalties.
  • Brand image and corporate responsibility: Consumers and other stakeholders are increasingly aware of environmental impacts and expect companies to adopt responsible waste practices. Managing these emissions enhances brand reputation and customer trust.
  • Cost savings: Optimising waste management processes reduces emissions and lowers operational costs. Efficient waste strategies can significantly save material recovery and recycling opportunities.
  • Innovation and efficiency: Detailed knowledge of waste streams facilitates product design and packaging innovation, reducing waste generation and improving process efficiency.

For industries where waste generation and management are intrinsically linked to operational activities, a deep dive into Scope 3 Category 5 emissions is a core element of sustainable business practice. By identifying the crucial importance of waste emissions in these industries, professionals can spearhead initiatives to mitigate environmental impacts, innovate in waste reduction, and advance their company's sustainability credentials.

How can companies reduce waste generated in operations emissions?

Reducing waste generated in operations is a multi-pronged effort that can lead to significant Scope 3 emissions reductions for companies. By implementing targeted strategies, sustainability managers can cut emissions and signal a company’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Here’s a glance at actionable strategies for reducing Scope 3 Category 5 emissions:

Implement waste reduction programmes

  • Audit and monitor waste: Conduct comprehensive audits to understand waste streams and monitor for continuous improvement.
  • Optimise resource use: Employ lean manufacturing principles to minimise material use and adopt circular economy practices.
  • Substitute materials: Switch to materials with lower life-cycle emissions where possible.

Enhance recycling and recovery

  • Increase recycling rates: Implement comprehensive recycling programmes for office waste, packaging, and manufacturing by-products.
  • Invest in waste-to-energy: Explore opportunities to convert waste into energy, reducing landfill use and associated methane emissions.

Engage in product design innovation

  • Design for environment (DfE): Develop products with end-of-life recycling or reuse to minimise waste generation.
  • Extend product life: Craft durable products that require less frequent replacement, reducing waste contributions over time.

Collaborate along the supply chain.

  • Supplier engagement: Work closely with suppliers to ensure they adopt sustainable waste management practices.
  • Consumer education: Inform customers about proper disposal and the recyclability of products to ensure waste is treated appropriately.

Adopt new technologies

  • Software for waste tracking: Invest in waste management software to improve waste tracking and identify emission reduction opportunities.
  • Innovative disposal technologies: Invest in emerging technologies that offer greener alternatives to traditional waste disposal methods.

Policy and employee engagement

  • Establish sustainability policies: Develop clear waste management policies and targets for the organisation.
  • Employee training: Educate and engage employees to foster a culture prioritising waste reduction at the source.

These strategies represent a cohesive approach to reducing Category 5 emissions, which requires an integration of process improvement, technology adoption, design innovation, and engagement at multiple levels of the organisation. By effectively reducing waste emissions, companies can lower their environmental impact, improve their brand image, and uncover cost savings, driving forward a greener, more sustainable operation.

Effective management of Scope 3 Category 5 emissions is crucial for companies seeking to reduce their environmental impact and enhance sustainability. These emissions stem from waste generated in operations handled by third parties and are integral to a comprehensive environmental strategy, particularly in sectors like manufacturing, healthcare, and retail.

Start measuring and reducing your Scope 3 emissions today with Plan A, leveraging our tools and expertise to drive impactful environmental improvements. 

Take control of decarbonisation

Get in touch with our expert team
Explore our software