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the zero waste to landfill challenge

2nd October 2013

Reduce; Reuse; Recycle; the UK government wants to become a Zero Waste Economy by reducing the proportion of the 177 million tonnes of waste generated annually that ends up as landfill. Working with the Environment Agency and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) the government identified waste prevention, waste re-use, recycling and other recovery activities as the best options to protect the environment and in the review of waste policy in England (2011) laid out 13 commitments for the UK to work towards a zero waste economy.

Waste management strategies which reduce carbon and the impact of waste are prioritised in line with the waste hierarchy – a guide which outlines the 5 steps for dealing with waste, ranked according to environmental impact. A number of actions, policies and legislations for industry, business, commercial and residential sectors are currently in place or under consultation to work towards achieving a zero waste economy.

Producer responsibility for packaging waste, WEEE, waste batteries and accumulators and vehicles makes up a part of the zero waste framework by attributing waste responsibility to the producer to encourage more sustainable products.

Other policies and actions include:

  • Regulation of landfill sites and landfill waste with the issue of environmental permits to operators and imposing fines and fees
  • Prevention of food waste by businesses in the food and drink sector
  • Improving the quality of recycled materials to promote UK waste on the international materials market to attract higher and more stable prices
  • Waste industry co-ordination of recycling, collection and enforcement as a part of waste management and waste responsibility
  • Improvements to household recycling and waste collections
  • Waste reductions and management assistance for businesses by reducing red tape regulations and enforcement to target the law breakers and by encouraging Local Authorities to provide clear information about their services and work with businesses to achieve waste reduction
  • Support energy from waste (EfW) and energy recovery projects
  • Developing an efficient waste infrastructure
  • Strengthening waste crime enforcement
  • Controlling hazardous waste

Meeting the challenge – the companies point of view

As a result of the legislation and incentives outlined by the government and environmental authorities, many UK businesses now take it upon themselves to outline their own Zero Waste to Landfill strategies. Many large UK retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Unilever and Tesco are signatories to the Courtauld Commitment – a voluntary agreement which aims to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste within the UK grocery sector and actively supports the zero waste economy goal.5 of these retailers (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Morrisons and Marks & Spencer) have all laid out plans to obtain their zero waste goals by 2015.

Unilever implemented a ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ in 2011 and in January 2013 announced that they had achieved of zero waste to landfill (in the UK and Ireland). By negotiating waste recycling contracts and eliminating waste from its factories the consumer goods company was able to bring forward its initial 2015 target.

In June 2013, Sainsbury’s reached their zero waste to landfill target two years earlier than expected by partnering with a variety of charities, recycling plants and energy from waste (EfW) facilities to recycle, reuse and reduce waste. Sainsbury’s long-standing partnership with the charity FareShare allowed the supermarket chain to donate un-usable food which would have made up a significant part of the waste-stream and waste baked products are now re-processed as high energy biscuit meal for animal feed.

Both Unilever and Sainsbury’s worked with third party waste management consultants to negotiate the new or enhanced contracts with waste collection firms, charities and recycling facilities and to manage the companies’ forward planning strategies of supporting customer information and maintaining the zero waste to landfill standard. Both Unilever and Sainsbury’s achieved growth whilst ensuring the sustainability of waste, indicating possible enhanced customer relationships and loyalty as well as defining themselves as ecologically attractive brands.

In May 2013 Waitrose introduced the ‘Waitrose Way’ – a scheme which outlined the grocer’s commitments to “living well, treating people fairly, treading lightly and championing British”. As well as negotiating waste contracts and finding other ways to divert waste from landfill, Waitrose have used this framework to reduce the overall waste which the company produces. The strategy outline shows that Waitrose will reduce their overall packaging output by 50% from 2005 to 2016. Having removed plastic trays from their fresh meat products the company have reduced total packaging for fresh lamb and pork by 70%.Waitrose have also re-launched their range of ready meals with 20% less packaging: these and other packaging reduction schemes will result in Waitrose producing 38 tonnes less of packaging waste per year.

What can you do to reduce your waste to landfill? Zero waste to landfill strategies are certainly not unachievable, as demonstrated by the case-studies above. By negotiating better deals and re-evaluating internal waste processes it should be relatively simple to halve the amount of waste that your business sends to landfill almost immediately. Achieving zero waste to landfill or publicising a zero waste to landfill target makes your company an attractive business prospect for both customers and partners and will often go some way to meeting your producer obligations or supporting a long-term carbon or waste reduction strategy.

To find out more about zero waste to landfill strategies and waste management services, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the Comply Direct team.