Cutting waste from your business requires a well-planned strategy, says Nathan Gray.
1 Start at the top
Your first step should be to go straight to your company's boardroom. Your senior management team unanimously needs to buy into your vision of zero waste and remain committed to the cause even if, in the early days, you may need to spend a little more time and effort to achieve it.
Next, embrace all stakeholders in your business. The diversity of voices may be challenging in terms of communication, but this is outweighed by having a larger, more engaged audience to recognise the commercial, social and environmental opportunities.
2 Draw a line in the sand
Get your facts and figures plotted so you can baseline your starting position. Look at your existing data against the backdrop of the waste hierarchy so that you know:
- The quantities of single-use items and consumables ordered by procurement;
- The amount of material that is reused;
- The amount of waste that is currently recycled;
- How much waste your business sends to landfill;
- How much waste you send for energy recovery;
- The total volume of waste generated by your firm; and
- Where waste is produced - and where it goes.
Understand where you are now, and where you want to get. Be ambitious but realistic with your targets.
3 Measure your success
Waste management companies have ways of recording and processing data for clients. For example, our Zero Waste Index is a digital tool that allows you to put your waste management strategy into a climate change context (see step 4).
It can represent the speed of change required by an organisation to plot its route towards a 1.5°C pathway in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report to the United Nations.
If, as an organisation, you publicise your commitments as goals, and accept that zero waste is where we need to be, all you need to do is plot your course to it and measure it.
An organisation's ability to measure its zero-waste status and report its progression is also a reinforcement and protection of its brand.
4 Connect climate with waste - and vice versa
Climate change is now a familiar term to most people, and yet one that's rarely linked with waste management. But they are inextricably linked. For a business to have a negligible impact on the environment, it needs to achieve 90 per cent renewable waste management. Non-renewable waste management (i.e. energy recovery and landfill) should only account for 10 per cent.
5 Reduce and reuse
There is a tendency to focus on recycling and recycling rates when people want to trumpet environmental credentials. But recycling comes only halfway up the waste hierarchy.
The greatest value by far comes in the form of reducing and reusing our waste.
When you are thinking about practical ways to reduce, look at all the materials and products coming into your business. Can the packaging be reduced? How might renegotiating with suppliers help to cut out packaging waste? How can educating your staff about waste management lead to waste reduction?
6 Sort out your bins
What bins do we need, how many, and how often do we need them to be collected? All too often this is the first point people jump to, but it should really only be a consideration once you've got the 'front end' (steps 1-5) licked.
It's also vital to remember that the quality of the material you recycle is just as important as the quantity. Look at ways to reduce contamination.
By following these steps, businesses can realise a genuine step change in reducing their environmental impact and develop a sustainable business model that will play a positive role in reducing climate change and the development of a more circular economy. The key differentiator between organisations implementing change successfully isn't what they say - it's what they do.
Nathan Gray is head of sustainability at Reconomy