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Can Businesses Achieve A Zero Waste To Landfill Target?

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We’re increasingly seeing successes in the way we offset how much of the UK’s waste ends up at landfill. Measures to lessen the burden on landfill sites are helping both consumers and businesses to recycle waste or find ways that it can be re-used or regenerated.

Waste hierarchy systems were introduced in 2011 in order to help reduce the burden on landfill sites and eliminate some waste ending up being dumped at such sites through initiatives, techniques and technology that can recycle or re-use waste. Indeed, recent research shows consumers alleviating the landfill dilemma can “recycling” at source with many revealing they are happier buying pre-owned or refubished gadgets.

2,001 British adults were asked about their technology-buying habits with 48% saying they now opted for pre-owned gadgets such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

We’re getting better at recycling. Local authorities have helped by asking consumers to split their waste into separate bins. This has achieved two things: it has increased the amount of waste we recycle, and increased awareness in the more sustainable living.

Progress will hopefully continue to be made. Take Scotland, for example, which has pledged by 2020 as part of the country’s Zero Waste Regulations, to place a landfill ban on municipal biodegradable waste. In the UK, this is the first ban of its kind. England and Northern Ireland could soon follow.

But we’ve haven’t achieved zero waste to landfill yet. Despite efforts to cut food waste by 5%, such waste actually rose 4.4% between 2012 and 2015. Can we really achieve a zero waste to landfill target?

Telford-based Reconomy, providers of skip hire for commercial waste, explores whether this proposal can ever be achieved.

How is zero waste to landfill defined?

Zero waste to landfill is defined by a target stipulating all waste in recycle. Waste can be recycled in multiple ways such as being reused or converted into energy. Typical recycling can include cardboard being prepared for re-use, glass being melted down for new products, and plastic given a second life as new packaging.

Food can be used as compost while organic material can be used as an energy source through anaerobic digestion. Such a method sees the methane-rich biogas being produced, which can then be used as a fuel.

For materials that can’t be recycled, gasification and incineration are both used as processes to help recover energy from materials. This is a great way to turn waste into usable energy.

Businesses must ensure audit trails are established to ensure waste streams are properly dealt with. Tracking is the only way to achieve zero waste to landfill.

Morgan Jones in the CIWN Journal said: “Setting the goal of becoming zero waste to landfill gives companies a great starting point for continually improving their waste management. It sets a new baseline on the waste hierarchy, driving the implementation of data collection and internal processes that ultimately move a business towards a more circular use of resources.”

Of course, it can cost time and money to properly tracking waste streams which can make recycling less attractive. However, companies are increasingly finding real business value in reducing waste. Resource cost increases have led to more and more businesses investing in waste management as has regulation.

“It is no surprise that the escalation in landfill tax costs in the UK has served its purpose in improving waste management,” says Jones. “With landfill now costing over £80 a tonne in tax on top of the fees paid to contractors, businesses have found themselves incentivised to make rapid and significant changes. In fact between 2012 and 2014 the total amount of commercial and industrial waste produced in the UK was reduced by more than 5 million tonnes, a reduction of 15% in just two years.

“Similarly, there have been government-backed interventions that were not mandatory, but that have also resulted in positive results. For example, more than 50 large manufacturing and retail businesses signed up to WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment collectively achieved £100 million just in food savings between 2013 and 2015.”

Zero waste to landfill targets: how can businesses benefit?

Businesses could be set to gain the following benefits if they reduce their waste streams further:

• Regulatory Demands
Organisations need to ensure that they are contributing a percentage of their waste away from landfill, if they aren’t, they may not be meeting legal requirements.

• Environmental Credentials
Improved environmental performance. By ensuring that waste is recycled, organisations can become responsible for positive change by reducing the rate and speed of climate change.

• Competitive Adavantage
If an organisation is recycling more than their main competitors, then that organisation is at an advantage in terms of lower landfill tax rates – and public reputation.

What does zero waste to landfill actually mean?

Zero waste to landfill is more a philosophy than an actual reality. There are too many factors – industrial processes, materials, business models, regulations and public infrastructures – which make the definition achievable. But if these individual aspects were to be improved, then this longer-term ambition may be realised.

The factors to successfully keep waste out of landfill mean the whole supply chain needs to get on board. But there’s also the issue of incineration causing ash (another waste) so technology and innovation needs to continue to seek ways to eliminate the byproduct of recycling endeavour.

How can circular economies help?

Circular economies are beginning to change the way businesses operate, and evidence of this is starting to be seen across the globe. Including the creation of energy from more renewable and efficient sources, there are many benefits to a circular economy. If a zero waste to landfill ambition is to be fully achieved, a product’s biological and technical components will be designed with the intention of fitting within a biological and technical materials cycle.

This is already being seen around the world, at least to some extent. In Holland, for instance, around 16% of new metal and electrical sector products are items that have been either repaired or reused.

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