Managing waste

Does your business have a strategy for waste minimisation and management?

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Waste management is the collection, transportation and disposal of rubbish, sewage and other waste materials. All businesses produce waste, so it’s an issue that all businesses face to some degree. However, it’s clearly a more crucial issue in some sectors than others, particularly in construction, manufacturing, agriculture and energy production; sectors that produce far more waste than, for example, the service industry. The issue of waste is of huge environmental concern, and cuts across several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, giving greater impetus to tackling the issue.

Effective waste management is increasingly important as populations increase and become wealthier, and as more and more resources are used. When waste is not managed effectively, not only are resources squandered, but there can be significant harmful impacts on both the environment and people. Waste comes in a myriad of forms, some more hazardous than others. Decomposing organic waste can cause disease, including sickness and diarrhoea, dysentery and dengue fever. Leachates resulting from landfilled waste can pollute water supplies by leaking into groundwater, and currently contributes 4% of global greenhouse gases, with 16% of methane (the most harmful greenhouse gas) coming from landfill. Plastics in the ocean can destroy sea life, and, when rotting, can cause the production of pathogenic bacteria that can enter the human food chain through fish.

The global waste trade refers to the trade in hazardous and toxic waste between countries for further treatment and disposal. This is an unequal trade, where materials that can and do cause significant harm to humans, wildlife and the environment travel from wealthy OECD nations to countries in the Global South. Transporting hazardous waste out of the country in which it is produced is illegal in the European Union, and multiple international agreements have attempted to control this trade, beginning with the Basel Convention which has been ratified by 186 countries since 1989. Nonetheless, it persists, indeed the UN Environment Programme claims that 90% of global electronic waste is dumped or illegally traded, despite this being illegal in the EU and the OECD.

Waste matters to business not only because of the environmental and human impacts of poor waste management, but because waste is costly. Alongside the cost of disposing of waste responsibly or in compliance with legal requirements, waste costs companies the value of the wasted resources, the labour taken to deal with it and the energy used to transport it. Further, where waste does damage to the environment, it destroys resources that might have been used for production in the future. On the other hand, waste management is a massive and growing industry. The global solid waste management industry (i.e. not including water treatment or waste gas) is set to grow to $1296.04 billion by 2022 .

Alongside the harm of ineffective waste management, tackling the issue of waste also provides opportunities for innovation, creative business solutions and partnerships between the public and private sectors. Reducing waste could free up resources for other uses. For instance the value of global food waste is $750 billion per year. Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion to end extreme poverty throughout the world. It’s worth remembering that one company’s waste may be another’s foodstock - waste materials are used to create a wide variety of new products. Energy can be extracted by combusting waste and seemingly waste products can be reused again - for instance ash from incinerators can be used as building materials. P&G has used waste plastic washed up on beaches to make shampoo bottles.

The most common framework to tackle waste - and that around which companies can build their waste strategies - is known as the waste hierarchy. Essentially, at each stage of the hierarchy, some ‘waste’ is put to productive use, decreasing dramatically the final amount of waste that cannot be used for any productive purpose. These stages are:

  1. Prevent unnecessary materials being used
  2. Reduce the amount of materials used - through product changes and substitutions if necessary, through technological changes and changes in operational practice
  3. Reuse - putting materials that are no longer needed to new use - for instance reusing drinks bottles. Creatively using waste products for new purposes reduces the need for energy intensive recycle process, lowering the carbon footprint of the product
  4. Recycle - breaking down materials and producing new products with them. Design of physical products can play an essential role in reducing the amount of waste, or encouraging recycling. For instance, designing packaging using just one material can facilitate recycling
  5. Energy extraction - Products that cannot be recycled can produce energy. However processes for utilising waste products to make energy remain controversial - pyrolysis and gasification both extract energy from waste heated to extremely high temperatures - and are more environmentally friendly than incineration, but may cause perverse incentives against recycling and renewable energy technology.
  6. Final disposal should take care to prevent contamination - landfill sites should be carefully engineered to ensure they are safe for wildlife, surrounding communities and workers.
Gasification

A process through which waste is broken down at high temperatures (over 750°C) in the presence of some oxygen, but not enough for combustion to occur to produce syngas which can then be burnt to produce energy.

Global Waste Trade

The trade in waste products between countries, typically from OECD countries to poorer countries in the Global South. When this trade involves dumping waste products, or failing to properly manage waste, it can be extremely harmful to people and the environment.

Hazardous Waste

Waste is considered ‘hazardous’ under environmental legislation when it contains substances or has properties that might make it harmful to human health or the environment.

Incineration

The process through which waste materials are burnt as a form of disposal.

Leachate

Any liquid that, in the course of passing through matter, extracts soluble or suspended solids, or any other component of the material through which it has passed. In the context of landfills, leachate refers to any liquid that drains from land or stockpiled material, and which contains significantly elevated concentrations of undesirable material derived from the material that it has passed through.

Polluter Pays Principle

The idea that those who produce the waste should pay the costs of managing it

Product life-cycle

Every stage of a product and its constituent parts’ existence - from raw materials, to manufacturing, reuse and end stage development. The Life-cycle approach takes account of the overall impacts that an approach, service or product will have throughout its whole life.

Proximity principle

Emphasises the need to treat or dispose of waste as close as practicable to the point of generation, to minimise the environmental impact of waste transportation.

Pyrolysis

A process through which waste is broken down at high temperatures (over 750°C), in the absence of air to produce syngas which can then be burnt to produce energy.

Sanitary Landfill

Landfill sites that have been engineered so that leachates do not pollute the environment. These landfill sites are lined so that leachates cannot contaminate groundwater, and are fitted with drainage systems to extract leachates so they can be treated. These landfill sites are also monitored after they have been filled, in order to ensure they are not polluting surrounding areas.

Solid Waste

A wide variety of waste material including refuse, sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant or air pollution control facility, or other discarded material, resulting from industrial, commercial, mining and agricultural operations, and from community activities. Nearly everything we do leaves behind some kind of waste. The definition of solid waste is not limited to wastes that are physically solid. Many solid wastes are liquid, semi-solid, or contain gaseous material.

Syngas

This is produced from waste through pyrolysis or gasification. It is composed mainly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (85%), with smaller quantities of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, methane and various other hydrocarbon gases. It can be used as a fuel to generate electricity or steam or as a basic chemical feedstock in the petrochemical and refining industry.

The Courtauld Commitment 2025

This is a voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food system together to cut waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with food in the UK by 20% by 2025.

Waste Hierarchy

A hierarchy of waste management options which should be applied in priority order, beginning with prevention, followed by reduction, reuse, recycling, energy extraction and final disposal. At each stage, the economic and environmental benefits of each option are maximised.

Waste Management

The collection, transportation, and disposal of rubbish, sewage, and any other waste products

Value Chain

The 'value chain' of a company is the set of activities that are performed in order to deliver a product or service to the market. It consists of:

  • the supply chain, including raw materials produced by primary industries, non-material resources and the operations performed on them by intermediaries up until supplies are purchased by the company
  • the value delivered by the company itself through its product manufacturing, service development or other activities
  • the 'demand chain', through which the company's products or services reachtheir market through to final disposal, including the distribution and sales to customers by intermediaries.
Zero Waste to Landfill

This is a target set by companies that they will send no waste to landfill, and will instead seek out alternative ways to deal with their waste. It should be noted that ‘zero’ does not always mean ‘zero’, but rather a significant commitment to reduce waste sent to landfill to the bare minimum.

Answering YES

All Businesses MUST

Describe their policy on waste minimisation and management

Explain the steps they have taken to minimise their waste

State the final destination of all their waste products if possible

All Businesses MAY

Explain if and how they conduct waste audits and whether they publish results

Detail any partnerships they have with other organisations that use their waste for productive purposes

As a percentage of their total waste product, state how much of their waste ends up in landfill

State the absolute amount of waste produced that ends up in landfill

Describe the strategies and frameworks used to minimise waste, and to maximise the productive use of any waste they cannot eradicate

State any philosophies or beliefs they hold relating to waste

Describe how they audit their value chains

Describe any efforts they take so that they do not contribute harmfully to the international trade in hazardous waste

Describe how you influence others, including customers, suppliers, the sector etc. to reduce waste

Detail how waste is considered in procurement decisions

Outline any future plans regarding waste minimisation and management

Provide any other relevant information

Answering NO

All Businesses MUST

Explain why they do not meet the requirements to answer YES to the question, listing the business reasons, any mitigating circumstance or any other reasons that apply

All Businesses MAY

Describe any efforts to promote good waste management that do exist, even though all the requirements to answer YES to this question are not met

Mention any future intentions regarding this issue

DON'T KNOW is not a permissible answer to this question

NOT APPLICABLE is not a permissible answer to this question

Version 2

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

Waste minimisation and management is a key strategic issue

Examples or indicators of EXCELLENT policy and practice include:

  1. Ambitious and clear policies and practices in place regarding waste management and waste reduction
  2. Staff and other stakeholders are fully involved in and informed about policies on waste minimisation and management.
  3. Developing innovative ways to re-use ‘waste’ materials
  4. Strong track record of reducing waste
  5. Clear targets are set according to recognised methodologies
  6. Actions measured and monitored
  7. Cited as an exemplar in its sector
  8. Deliberately designs products that are easily recyclable, such as containers made of a single type of material
  9. Designs incorporate reused materials
  10. Seeks out partners that can reuse or recycle waste
  11. Has made waste reduction pledges such as the Courtauld Commitment or Zero Waste to Landfill
  12. Carries out regular waste audits
  13. Has appointed waste management champions
  14. Lobbies and works with government to put in place high quality waste management infrastructure
  15. Monitors usage of water, electricity, gas etc. using meters where necessary
  16. Educates staff, stakeholders and consumers on their potential contribution to good waste management
  17. Composts where appropriate
  18. Works to facilitate safe working conditions and good livelihoods for waste-workers
  19. Waste is disposed of near its production site (proximity principle)
  20. Accountable for the full life-cycle of its products, takes responsibility for disposal of solid final products
  21. Aligns waste minimisation and reuse/recycle strategies with cost as part of business strategy
  22. Engages in industry cooperation to facilitate sustainable value chains
  23. Commitment from senior management
  24. Monitors value chains and audits waste disposal
  25. Makes clear and concerted efforts not to contribute to harmful aspects of the global waste trade
  26. Lobbies government to act on, and campaigns against harmful aspects of the global waste trade
To receive a score of 'Good'

The business has established, clear practices to minimise and manage waste safely

Examples or indicators of GOOD policy or practice include:

  1. Staff are informed and engaged
  2. Developed easy ways to implement waste management across the business
  3. Has diversity of approaches to minimise waste
  4. Undertaken audit (or similar) to set clear targets
  5. Actions measured and monitored
  6. Follows industry best practice but occasionally falls short
  7. Has a waste minimisation policy
  8. Partnerships over waste with other organisations,
  9. Consistent record of recycling and reuse in line with industry practices
  10. Final end disposal of waste is carried out safely
  11. Monitors value chains to avoid participation in harmful aspects of the global waste trade
  12. Commitment to continual improvement
  13. Company has standards over and above legal requirements
To receive a score of 'Okay'

The business takes ad hoc steps to reduce waste OR waste management is not relevant to the business

Examples or indicators of OKAY policy or practice include:

  1. Understands the legal implications of the waste produced by the organisation and identifies specific relevant legislation
  2. Developed some strategies and methods of waste management
  3. Waste disposal not monitored or measured consistently
  4. A waste audit has been carried out, but auditing is not done consistently
  5. Statement of limited waste production in company
  6. The business complies with legal requirements on environmental protections
  7. Waste disposal documentation, such as transfer, duty of care notes or hazardous waste consignment notes completed as necessary
  8. Provides satisfactory explanation that waste management is not relevant or applicable to the business
  9. Statement of future intent to improve
  10. Fully compliant with legal requirements
To receive a score of 'Poor'

Performance is below expectations, the business fails to take adequate steps to manage waste, the businesses waste disposal practices are harmful to people and the planet.

Examples or indicators of POOR policy or practice include:

  1. Very little action apparent on managing waste
  2. Harmful practices occur such as dumping, unsafe disposal of toxic waste
  3. Harmful practices occur in developing countries
  4. The company does not reuse or recycle, even when this is possible
  5. Engages in ‘dilute and pollute’
  6. Uses materials that are particularly difficult to dispose of safely, such as microplastics which enter water systems and can be ingested by waterlife
  7. The waste disposal practices the company uses pollute groundwater
  8. The company is unaware of how it’s waste is disposed
  9. The company’s waste is dumped, not in sanitary landfill
  10. Waste audits are not carried out
  11. Firm violates legislation and/or regulation concerning waste disposal
  12. The company participates in harmful or illegal aspects of the global waste trade