Carbon emissions – a case of rubbish data and wrong assumptions

The UK Government provides tables for greenhouse gas emissions including generic figures for road vehicles. For example a rigid diesel goods vehicle of 7.5 to 17 tonnes has an indicative figure of 0.601 kg CO2e per km. You need to apply such generic figures with caution, though. I saw a report from a local council that used that particular number to back-calculate emissions from its refuse collection trucks. Leaving aside the fact that many of their vehicles are 26 tonners, they spend much of their time accelerating, braking to a halt, idling and running hydraulic accessories, with the result that one would expect them to do no better than about 4 mpg with emissions more like 1.8 kg CO2e per km, three times the council’s assumed value.

For the council in question that is not a trivial error. Even on their optimistic analysis domestic waste collection represents 33% of their total emissions. Properly calculated (ideally from actual fuel purchases) they will turn out to be more than all their other emissions taken together.

Further reading


For sustainability professionals to make a real practical difference to carbon emissions they need a broad appreciation of technical energy-saving opportunities. To help them understand the potential more clearly I run a one-day course called ‘Energy Efficiency A to Z‘. Details of this can be found at