IT'S QUITE an emotive question. Especially to be asking of the Footprint audience, who are a group wholly bought into the sustainability agenda, working in companies that are often leading the way.
But if I asked “Do you have room for improvement?”almost everyone would say “of course”. The difficulty comes in quantifying how much room for improvement exists, whether or not it can practically be achieved, and whose responsibility that improvement is.
Along the way waste has become increasingly complicated.
Many businesses consider that the responsibility to deal with the waste and recycling that they produce lies with contractors and councils; they just pay to have it removed. Instead, a more effective ethos is that it is the producers responsibility to ensure that what they produce is optimised for the available waste infrastructure.
Every business is different, they produce different wastes in differing quantities. Providing a collection infrastructure to cater for all requires compromise both on the part of the companies collecting and processing the waste and recycling and those producing it. Producers should align their outputs to the best available services in the areas they operate; which may change over time.
Best practice is still a set of moving goal posts. For example, mixed recycling collections that were developed only a few years ago and were instrumental in increasing tonnages of recovered material in the UK are now considered a source of poorer quality material; regulations exist to prevent it where segregated collections are viable. This means that businesses whose own operations have not changed may need to change the way they manage waste regardless to keep at the forefront of sustainable practices or even within the law.
The issue of perceived responsibility can be also seen in the way many waste tenders are produced. Broadly paraphrased they say “We’ve got this waste - who has the lowest lift price and can recycle the most”. And often it’s the price that wins over sustainability when push comes to commercial shove. If we are not careful waste can start to be seen as an inevitability of doing business rather than a byproduct that should be managed at every point. If recyclability, disposal and yield is considered in the buying process of what eventually ends up in bins the ultimate disposal is very likely to cost less and be greener.
This is certainly true of the foodservice industry whose waste includes a full range of materials, and food waste. The advent of widely available food waste collections and infrastructure provides more options and has changed best practice; in Scotland it has even changed what a business must do legally. The food industries have bigger opportunities than most to improve performance around waste.
So why aren't we better with our waste in 2015? Well, we were shabby and complacent for far too long. Our taking it seriously is still relatively recent in the grand scheme of things. We’ve made some excellent progress to date for sure, but as I hope the next few years prove, we have only just started. Having started to address how we dispose of things the next big shift needs to be to address what we are wasting and why in a different way than most businesses do now.
At the top I said that waste has become increasing complicated; that isn’t strictly true. The truth is that we can now see how complicated it is, and that in itself is progress.
There are some fundamental principles that businesses can adopt to be greener from the core and improve performance. I am looking forward to chairing a number of debates at the Waste-Works event at the end of March at ExCeL that explore in detail, how businesses can go about this and what the rewards both financial and environmental can be realised.
Giles Whiteley is Managing Director of Orbisa and is assisting the curation of the Waste-Works Live seminar theatre that runs from 22nd to 25th March and takes place alongside IFE and Pro2Pac. To find out more and to register for free, visit: www.waste-works.com