Waste management is a huge issue right now. It’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. The issue of waste management has particular relevance for businesses. Unlike consumers, businesses are generally responsible for managing their own waste. What’s more, there can be significant penalties for businesses which don’t manage it correctly.
To explain further, Sarah Vernau, Marketing Manager at Flame UK shares her insight into how companies can better manager their business waste, and have sustainability in mind.
What Exactly is Business Waste?
In principle, business waste is any waste generated by any type of business. In practice, business waste varies greatly depending on the type of business. At a very broad level, all business waste can be put into one of three main categories. These are inert waste, non-inert waste, and hazardous waste.
Inert waste is non-reactive waste. As such it is very safe. The only real danger it poses comes from its volume and weight. Unfortunately, this lack of reactivity also means that it takes a very long time to biodegrade. Non-inert waste is also known as general waste. This is waste that may produce a reaction but is still considered safe. Non-inert waste can biodegrade relatively quickly.
Hazardous waste is also known as toxic waste. Both terms clearly highlight the issue with this type of waste. It may be biodegradable, but it can also cause a hazardous reaction. This reaction can pose a threat to public health and/or the environment.
These different categories can be further split into other subcategories. Some of these overlaps. For example, both inert and non-inert waste can potentially be reused, repurposed, or recycled.
The law Around Business Waste
In general, businesses are required to dispose of their own waste appropriately. What this means is very much dependent on context. There are, however, usually specific guidelines (or even requirements) for different categories of waste.
The key point to note, however, is that businesses cannot delegate accountability for the disposal of their waste. It’s therefore very important that businesses conduct thorough due diligence on any service providers they use for waste management. Businesses should only ever use reputable companies with any relevant licences and insurance.
The Environmental Impact of Business Waste
The environmental impact of business waste can be both more far-reaching and more nuanced than it might, at first, appear. To begin with, all business waste starts as raw materials. The environmental impact of business waste, therefore, starts with the extraction of these raw materials.
At some point, these raw materials will be converted into finished goods. Again, the way in which this is done will impact their overall environmental footprint. This means that businesses can influence the environmental impact of their waste through well-considered purchasing decisions.
Buying products from businesses that operate in a sustainable way may cost a little more. This cost may, however, be recouped further down the line. For example, buying a product in a pure, natural fibre may cost a bit more than buying a product in a natural/synthetic blend.
Pure natural fibres can, however, be recycled whereas (currently) natural/synthetic blends generally can’t. This means that they usually end up in landfill, so businesses have to pay the landfill tax. When the impact of this tax is taken into account, buying the more sustainable option can actually be more economical overall.
The Reality of Recycling Versus Landfill
When business waste is inevitable, it is preferable for it to be disposed of via recycling rather than via landfill. In the real world, however, recycling is not always as easy as it could be (and arguably should be).
It’s therefore highly advisable for businesses to inform themselves of what materials are recyclable in practice rather than just in theory. This information can then be used to inform buying decisions to minimise the use of landfill. Using landfill sites is already expensive and could potentially become even more so.
Governments around the world need to reclaim the space currently used for landfill. They also need to mitigate the hazards landfill sites create. The most obvious hazard is the production of methane.
Methane is flammable enough to be used as fuel. This means that landfill sites are significant fire risks. Methane also contributes to climate change. This means that its production goes against the government’s commitment that the UK will be carbon neutral by 2050.
For all these reasons (and more), it seems reasonable to assume that governments will be pushing hard to get businesses (and consumers) to recycle instead of using landfill. Hopefully, this will result in more recycling facilities being made available. Realistically, it is very likely to result in higher charges (taxes) for the use of landfill.
What This all Means for Businesses
The bottom line for businesses is that you should be keeping “reduce, reuse, recycle” at the forefront of waste-management decisions. Doing so may require you to reassess both your business processes and your purchasing strategy. Here are some tips to help.
Get to Grips With Inventory-Management
Many businesses have moved away from the ultra-lean model of low to no inventory. COVID19 delivered a sharp lesson on just how risky this can be. At the same time, however, you should only be buying supplies you’re confident you will use.
What’s more, you should be confident that this use is justified. Make a commitment to review your business processes continually to see if they can be done with fewer resources. If in doubt, be prepared to try controlled experiments.
Look for Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Your Waste
Start by looking for ways to reuse and repurpose your waste yourself. Again, be prepared to try controlled experiments. Once you’ve exhausted any options you find here, try seeing if your waste could be used by other people. Some businesses might even be able to sell some of their waste. Giving it to charity is generally your next-best option. This puts it to good use and can get you a tax credit.
Buy Products That are Easy to Recycle
If you do have to dispose of your waste, then try to do so via recycling. Make this easy on yourself by making a point of buying supplies that are easy to recycle. It’s even better if they have already been recycled at least once.