Most people don’t realize how much waste they throw away every day. For example, if we are just looking at food, from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce, shockingly, as much as half of the world’s food is wasted. Consequently, feeding the world is actually much more about preventing waste than finding ways of producing more food and all its associated social and environmental costs.
Once in landfills, the valuable raw materials contained in waste are lost and food in particular breaks down to produce toxic leachate which can contaminate groundwater and methane which is twenty-four times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so making a significant contribution to climate change.
According to the EPA’s National Waste Report for 2012 Ireland produced 2,692,537 tonnes of municipal waste which includes household, commercial and other waste or 4.6% lower than in 2011 which continues an ongoing trend of reduced levels of waste production.
What is waste?
The key piece of legislation here is the Waste Management Act, 1996 which defines “waste” under Section 4 as anything that is to be thrown away, is intended to be thrown away or is handled as waste i.e. “Any substance or object belonging to a category of waste specified in the First Schedule or for the time being included in the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard, and anything which is discarded or otherwise dealt with as if it were waste shall be presumed to be waste until the contrary is proved”.
“Disposal” is also defined under Section 4 and includes the collection, sorting, transport and treatment of waste as well as management of the waste and resource minimization including storage and tipping of it above or under ground, together with any transformation operations necessary for its re-use, recycling or incineration. A permit system operates for persons other than “public waste collectors” engaged in the treating, destroying, or tipping of waste on behalf of another person.
A key measure of the Act was to make not only producers, but also “holders” of waste responsible for waste management so that everyone in the waste management chain from production to disposal have a “duty of care” to ensure its proper treatment. This obliges waste producers to check up on the performance of their waste contractors and the penalties for not doing so (non-compliance) are prohibitive with possible fines of up to €13 million, daily fines of up to €130,000 and imprisonment for terms of up to 10 years.
The real cost of waste for your business
Ever-expanding waste legislation, consumer pressure and growing business awareness of the benefits of sustainability have all increased the need for organisations to improve their environmental performance.
Many companies are unaware of the true cost of waste to their business which could be as high as 4% of turnover. This is because the true cost of waste isn’t limited to the bill for disposal, as there are hidden costs, in terms of wasted raw materials, energy, labour – which can be five to twenty times greater, not to mention the risk of fines and reputational damage as poor management can land an organisation on the wrong side of the law. Consequently, implementing a structured waste minimisation programme makes sound financial sense as well as heightening competitiveness through improved quality control, quality of the environment and business and public profile.
Waste minimization program/ waste management principles
The waste management hierarchy outlines the key principles. Reduction is the most preferred option as it’s the waste you don’t produce that doesn’t cost you anything. It includes all actions taken to reduce the amount and/or toxicity of waste requiring disposal, however, it is typically a more technical and in-depth approach which involves reviewing all operations to identify waste reduction options. It also can lead to improvements in overall operational efficiency and productivity.
Reuse, preferably internally in the organization but externally if this is not feasible, is the next best option. Recycling and composting come next in order of preference and are probably what most people think if they think of waste management.
Incineration is the most polluting of all energy sources (but does recover some of the energy content of waste) and along with disposal (landfilling) props up the waste management hierarchy as the least preferred option.
Some simple methods of reducing waste include:
- reducing paper waste by default double-sided printing,
- purchasing of goods that have recycled content or produce less waste,
- moving to a ‘paperless’ office or implementing a “paperless” day in the office,
- providing reusable cups to eliminate disposables,
- composting food waste produced in the canteen for example (and a legal requirement if it is greater than 50 kg a week),
- installing recycling bins in the office – make sure to consult with employees to ensure they are located so as to be easily accessible, and do the contrary for general waste bins.
If you would like to learn more about waste management and minimization, and understand the legal requirements for your organization, we run an intensive one-day introductory Waste Management and Resource Minimization course. For more info drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 087 9678 372.
If you want to find out more about waste management yourself take a look at the EPA’s ‘BeGreen’ website.
National Waste Statistics – Report and Bulletins
Cré the Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland
Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government
Environmental Protection Agency
Almost half of the world’s food thrown away, report finds
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