Waste is a product of every business or workplace. Dealing with this waste inefficiently can cost money, damage the environment, and affect an organisation’s reputation. An effective waste management strategy is an important tool for avoiding unnecessary spending and demonstrating corporate social responsibility.
The law applicable to waste
In the UK, the management of commercial or industrial waste is covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Enforcement of this act has been the responsibility of the Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales since 1996. In Scotland the role is carried out by the Scottish Environmental Protection agency (SEPA). The act defines controlled waste as waste from households, commerce or industry. Waste is legally defined as ‘any substance or object…which the producer or the person in possession of it discards or intends or is required to discard.’
Since the definition of controlled waste is so broad, virtually every workplace will produce waste that is covered by the act. Organisations have a duty of care to ensure that the waste is identified, described in writing, and disposed of safely and legally.
Dealing with waste
The European Waste Framework defines a waste hierarchy which sets out the preferred order of measures to deal with waste. These are listed below:
- Prevention, i.e. reducing the amount of waste produced or limiting its environmental impact
- Preparing for re-use, e.g. repairing equipment or furniture
- Recycling, i.e. turning into a new product
- Other recovery, e.g. energy recovery
The first two measures are preferred because they avoid producing waste in the first place. Prevention can be achieved by extending the life of products, using less of them, or by using less harmful materials. Preparing for re-use means cleaning or repairing an item so that it can be re-used for its original purpose. Recycling and other recovery are means of disposal that produce a useful end result such as new products or energy. Disposal is the least preferred option as the waste is put into landfill or incinerated with no useful by-products.
Developing a waste management strategy
To develop an effective waste management strategy, it is necessary to identify the types of waste, or waste streams, produced in a workplace. There are many possible waste streams such as general refuse, paper and cardboard, glass, metal, plastic, construction waste, and so on. It is a legal requirement to separate certain recyclable products from other wastes. These include paper, glass, plastic, and metal.
Having identified the waste streams in the workplace, it is now possible to conduct an audit of the amount of waste produced and the costs of dealing with it. The result can be compared with industry standards and best practice. Any opportunities to minimise waste should be utilised.
Once effective policies and procedures are in place to manage and reduce waste, the strategy should be reviewed at regular intervals to determine if any improvements are possible.