Waste is defined as any substance or object that the holder discards. The ‘waste hierarchy’ is a concept established by the European Union that informs many of the U.K. policies regarding waste. The first consideration when handling waste should be prevention. After this, waste should be considered for reuse and recycling, before finally, disposal. Based on the waste hierarchy, the government are extremely keen to promote the reduction of waste. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 imposes restrictions on the amount of waste that can be disposed of in landfills. Therefore, it is very important that businesses commit to reducing their waste.
Businesses also need to reduce the amount of water and energy they waste. Climate change and the growing population are putting pressure on the water supply. There are concerns that the ways businesses use water and energy are not sustainable. Therefore, companies must consider appropriate measures to reduce the amount they waste.
What waste do organisations produce?
In the U.K., new regulations and policies have been introduced to reduce the amount of waste generated by the commercial sector. For example, the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 place responsibility on the producers of packaging waste to recover and recycle a certain amount of packaging. Despite these new regulations, businesses have continued to generate a substantial amount of waste. According to research published in 2018, the commercial and industrial sectors generated 37.9 million tonnes of waste in 2017. There are many different types of waste produced by organisations. For example:
- Paper and packaging
- Food and clinical waste
- Used packaging – black plastic
- Batteries and electrical equipment
- Metal cans/containers and plastic or glass bottles
Businesses also waste a lot of energy. For example:
- Electricity to power equipment, lighting and computer networks
- Gas to provide heating for premises
- Petrol for vehicles
What are the harmful effects of waste?
Much of the waste generated by the U.K. ends up in landfill sites. Old quarries are sometimes used. Occasionally, landfills are specifically dug. Some waste will eventually rot, but this often takes a lot of time and may smell and generate methane gas. Not only is methane explosive, it is also a greenhouse gas, so it contributes to the greenhouse effect. If a landfill site is badly managed, it may also attract vermin or cause litter. When waste ends up in landfill, chemicals might also contaminate soil. This damages the surrounding environment, as well as posing a health risk to any animals or humans that come into contact with it. These chemicals can also reach nearby surface water, which disrupts ecosystems such as fish habitats.
Sometimes waste is incinerated, but this also causes problems. When plastics are burnt, they tend to produce toxic substances, such as dioxins. The gases generated in incineration may also cause air pollution and acid rain.
Wasting energy means the increased emission of greenhouse gases. Too much of these gases in the air leads to global warming and increases the likelihood of acid rain. This climate change has already affected water supply, which is why it is so important that businesses also reduce the amount of water they waste.
What can organisations do to reduce this waste?
Effective management of waste is important as disposal can be expensive. There are many ways that a business can limit the amount of waste they generate.
Reduce: Businesses can significantly reduce the amount of waste they generate by simply buying and using less equipment and materials.
Reuse: By passing on redundant yet safe and useable equipment and materials to other organisations, businesses can effectively reduce waste. Wherever possible, businesses should also repair rather than replace broken equipment and find other uses for some materials.
Recycle: It is extremely important to recycle as much waste as possible so that it doesn’t go to landfill sites. Businesses should collect recyclable materials such as glass, plastic and metal. Composting vegetable matter is another great way to reduce waste.
In order to limit the amount of water and energy businesses waste, companies are encouraged to:
- Fix dripping taps or install low-flow or electronic taps that turn off after a period of time
- Fill the kettle with only the necessary amount of water
- Use water efficient equipment, such as dishwashers and washing machines. It is also important to check if dishwashers are ‘A’ rated for maximum efficiency and equipment should always be turned off when not in use.
- Set thermostats appropriately and prevent them from being tampered with
- Use low energy light bulbs and timer controls
- Keep doors and windows closed to prevent heated or cooled air from escaping. Hot water tanks and pipes should also be insulated to avoid heat loss or transfer
- Use teleconferencing to reduce travel, or use public transport or vehicles with low fuel consumption. Car-sharing schemes
LUSH is an excellent example of a business pledging to reduce the waste they produce. The handmade cosmetic retailer take pride in their limited packaging policy. They claim that this new stance on packaging both reduces waste and provides customers with a more old-fashioned, personalised shopping experience. Rather than relying on carefully marketed descriptions on packaging, shoppers are given personalised and unlimited advice from knowledgeable staff members in LUSH stores. By not using expensive packaging, LUSH are able to invest in the extra staff and training required to provide customers with expert advice about their products. They also give customers the chance to refuse any packaging at all and ‘go completely naked’ (with the products, not themselves). Reducing waste in the U.K. is a shared responsibility. Everyone generates waste, and therefore everyone has a responsibility to prevent further waste growth.