Prevention is Better than Cure
After speaking to Tomorrow’s FM earlier this month, Nathan explains that the way we think about waste is the key driver to being able to effectively manage it.
It is no coincidence that prevention sits at the top of the Waste Hierarchy. Quite simply the best way to improve the waste and recycling performance of any business is to stop this material from being generated in the first place. This is, of course, easier said than done. We live in a throw-away culture where to consume and dispose is second nature. There is no doubting the fact that people now have a greater understanding of the need to recycle but for many, this is limited to selecting the right container for their waste. At this point, we generally feel we have discharged our obligation and there is no further engagement with that product or material. This is a linear approach to waste management and we should shift to a circular one.
Talk in the industry is now more about resource management and the Circular Economy than just waste. In fact, waste has become somewhat of a dirty word and represents a design flaw. The mindset that waste is actually made up of a number of valuable natural resources is in my experience, limited to those of us fortunate enough to work in this field. You are unlikely to hear “It’s Tuesday I’m just going to put the resources out for collection’. If we can start to build this understanding, it will inevitably help people make better decisions, not only in terms of recycling but also in relation to the goods and products they purchase and the ultimate protection of our planet and its resources. It will help them start to think about the companies and brands that manufacture the products and the potential for them to be reused and recycled at the end of the holders use.
From the outset, the way we develop business strategy can also have a major impact on the amount of waste we produce and our ability to manage it. Following on from the point about mindset, if we create a strategy based around managing the waste we are producing, this does little more than treat the symptoms and is an ‘end of pipe’ mentality. It doesn’t help us push back up the chain and impact on the decisions that are going to affect the ‘designing out of waste’ and the incorporation of durability for reuse, or its recycling potential.
A common challenge we encounter, is a disconnect between a business’s CSR objectives and the way in which it procures its waste and recycling services. Often CSR strategies will include well-meaning points relating to embedding the principles of the Circular Economy in to the business but when it comes to procurement, this remains focused on price per bin lift . Looking at the products that are coming in to the business helps us make good choices about which materials and designs to use. Uniforms are a perfect example. A good decision will give these garments a beneficial second life to people who need them, whilst a poor choice may see them being shredded and used in low grade applications such as industrial cleaning rags.
Effective resource management should deliver a triple-bottom line impact on the environment, financial performance and society. The last of these is one that is often overlooked. We find that decisions made to maximise the benefit to society, often are those that, by default, have the most positive impact and help a business become truly sustainable. We should also recognise the positive influence this can have on our customers who are able to feel good about using socially responsible products, services and brands. Helistrat works to ensure that all of its supply chain meet this ‘social requirement’ through a Sustainability Compatibility Statement. In general, we find that most service providers are already involved in work that has a positive impact on the communities they operate in. As a sector however, we are not always great about promoting it. In instances where we believe they could achieve more, we will work with them and provide support to help them become more sustainable.
Looking at our own business for a moment, we have become increasingly aware of our responsibility to practice what we preach and beyond this, to act as a testbed for new ideas and innovation. Some practical examples of initiatives we have implemented or are trialing include:
We recently kitted out an area of our office desks and bookshelves made from cardboard. This furniture is both 100% recycled and 100% recyclable when it comes to the end of its life. We have also introduced a new recycling station for the office made from the same material to help segregate even more recyclables.
We have installed a new coffee machine in the staff kitchen. This will reduce the amount of paper cups we use from coffee shops and the fact that it uses beans, means that we are not generating any plastic waste from coffee pods. We are even sending the used coffee grinds to local allotments to be used as a soil improver!
We have an electric pool car that is available for all office based staff to use for local trips, as well as a hybrid vehicle within the fleet to make longer journeys more efficient and reduce CO2 emissions.
Reducing the amount of waste a business produces will undoubtedly enable them to make a real step-change in the way it manages these resources and will ultimately make a contribution to its sustainability performance on a number of levels. This change is best implemented by looking at the outputs you want to achieve and finding ways to control the products and materials that come in to your business and its processes. It is important to understand that this cannot be done in isolation but will require multiple departments to work together in a co-ordinated and consistent manner to achieve a set of common goals. In many cases, working with a company like Helistrat to set a realistic and achievable plan to reduce waste and improve resource efficiency, will help businesses realise their commercial, environmental and social benefits from a triple bottom line perspective.