All organisations now need to apply waste hierarchy protocols when dealing with and disposing of their waste, which was stipulated by guidelines introduced in 2011. These rules enforce that all organisations who deal with waste should dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.
The reason for this is because the ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model of the past – a system reliant upon cheap and easily accessed materials – is reaching its capacity and physical limitations.
Action is however, now being taken to help combat this problem. By 2020, as part of their Zero Waste Regulations, Scotland has placed a landfill ban on municipal biodegradable waste; in the UK, this is the first ban of its kind, which could see England and Northern Ireland following suit shortly afterwards.
Before 2016, food waste was supposed to have been reduced by 5%, whereas food waste actually rose by 4.4% between 2012 and 2015. Now, the question still remains, how can the UK achieve a zero waste to landfill policy? Reconomy, leading providers of outsourced waste management and skip hire services, explore whether this proposal can ever be achieved.
Defining a zero waste to landfill solution
Zero waste to landfill means what it states: no waste that is produced by a business is taken to a landfill site to be disposed of. Instead, these materials may be recycled in different ways, reused or contribute energy from waste. If recycling is the method used, the materials involved are as follows:
- Organic material. This can be broken down through a process known as anaerobic digestion. This is the breakdown of organic material by micro-organisms when oxygen isn’t present. Such a method sees the methane-rich gas, biogas, being produced, which can then be used as a fuel and a digestate — a source of nutrients that is able to be used as a fertiliser.
- Glass. This can be melted down and then created into new glass products and containers.
- Plastic. This can be recycled and made into new packaging.
- Food. This waste is often processed to be used as compost.
- Cardboard. This is typically recycled in a paper mill.
Furthermore, in processes such as incineration and gasification – energy can be recovered from waste that can’t be recycled.
To make sure that waste arrives at the correct recycling facility, audits need to be carried out by businesses for monitoring purposes. If they can’t be tracked, then the zero waste to landfill label cannot be attributed to that organisation’s waste, which is why tracking is so important within this process.
Tracking systems are however, often difficult to implement; often, they use up a business’ time and money that can be used elsewhere. This then, casts doubt on whether organisations through the UK, and the world, can direct all their waste streams to recyclable solutions.
The benefits of a zero waste to landfill target
Landfill tax now costs £82.60 per tonne of waste at the standard rate, and this does not include additional costs paid to contractors. This drives the incentive for businesses to reduce their waste sent to landfill as not only does it benefit the environment, it also saves them money.
However, taxation does appear to be working; between 2012 and 2014, the total amount of commercial and industrial waste that was produced in the UK was reduced by over 5 million tonnes, which is a reduction of 15% in two years.
If organisations seek to reduce their landfill waste further, they are set to gain the following benefits:
- Improved environmental performance: By ensuring that waste is effectively managed, organisations can become responsible for positive change by reducing the rate and speed of climate change, meeting Social Responsibility objectives.
- Competitive edge: If an organisation has a detailed strategy for managing its waste, then that organisation is at an advantage in terms of lower waste costs, and public reputation.
- Meeting legal requirements: 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.
A circular economy that can help
Helping to reduce the pressure on the ‘take, make, dispose’ waste method is the circular economy ethos.
In comparison to systems purely made for efficiency, there are many benefits to having a circular economy; this is because more energy can be made from renewable sources. However, in the goal to achieving a zero waste to landfill target, a circular economy will mean that waste will not exist when a product’s biological and technical components are designed with the intention to always fitting within a biological and technical materials cycle.
Across the globe, there’s already been evidence that circular economic principles are being utilised. In the Netherlands, for example, around 16% of the new stream of products being introduced to the metal and electrical sectors were items which had either been repaired or reused. Further afield, China has been running mandatory energy saving and pollution reduction programmes nationwide since 2006. These are in place to address what researchers in the country have referred to as ‘low resource efficiency’ and ‘high pollution levels’.