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Scottish Waste Environmental Footprint Tool (SWEFT)

22 May 24 3 minute read

The Scottish Waste Environmental Footprint Tool (SWEFT) provides a holistic picture of the environmental impact of the things we dispose of from our homes.

We live in a climate crisis and need to introduce measures that can effectively help us tackle climate change and transition from a linear economy - where we ‘make, use, dispose’ - to a circular economy where everything has a value and nothing goes to waste.    

To help achieve this, it’s important to measure the life-cycle impacts of waste. This includes extraction, manufacturing, production, transport, recycling, and disposal.  

Looking at the life-cycle of waste provides a broader picture of the impact different materials are contributing to environmental damage.  

We know that the climate crisis is not just about carbon emissions. There are other impacts too – like biodiversity loss, rising pollution levels, and the depletion of natural resources, like water.  

We need to look at all of these to enable a broader understanding of the environmental impacts of our waste and the overconsumption of raw materials. This is why we’ve developed the Scottish Waste Environmental Footprint Tool.

What is SWEFT?

As with its predecessor, the Carbon Metric, SWEFT includes the impacts of waste generated during the upstream production process, such as raw material extraction and manufacturing, and during waste management. Any benefits of waste treatment, for example due to recycling, are also included.

It is an evolution of the Carbon Metric, a pioneering development in the monitoring of waste impacts.  However, unlike the Carbon Metric, SWEFT expands our knowledge by combining the carbon impacts of waste with the results of other environmental damage indicators including: 

  • Climate change (carbon emissions)
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Air pollution
  • Water consumption
  • Mineral resource scarcity
  • Land use

Key results of SWEFT

SWEFT shows that there is an adverse environmental impact associated with the materials and products that households waste in Scotland, with different waste streams having different relative impacts across various environmental indicators. 

Textiles, food, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), plastic, and paper and cardboard are the most problematic waste streams from the perspective of climate change, biodiversity loss, air pollution, mineral resource scarcity, water consumption, and land use. 

Recycling remains a valuable step towards reaching climate goals, such as net-zero, but reducing how much we waste, by consuming less, reusing and sharing, will have the biggest impact on the reduction of environmental damage.

Download report

A report on the impact of household waste will be published every year beginning in 2024 with the impact of household waste in 2022.

Frequently asked questions

SWEFT is a life-cycle assessment tool developed in response to the widening environmental crisis. It aims to help us understand the impacts of our waste, as when we waste products, we are also wasting the energy and materials used to make that product. 

One of Zero Waste Scotland’s ultimate goals is to end over-consumption. We can have the greatest impact in tackling environmental damage by reducing our demand for raw materials and energy and by keeping materials in use for longer.

SWEFT will be essential to measure our impact and to develop interventions with the greatest environmental benefits. It enables us to make better-informed decisions and gives us a much fuller picture about our waste and the impact it has on our planet’s ecosystems. It will change the way we think about waste for the better and help Scotland’s transition to a circular economy.