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Halving Residual Waste by 2042 – A Guide for Facilities Managers

Halving Residual Waste by 2042 – A Guide for Facilities Managers
29 March 2022
 

Addressing mixed waste presents some easy cost and carbon savings for facilities managers, says Dr Stephen Wise, Chief Strategic Development Officer for biotechnology business Advetec.

Following the news that the government plans to halve all mixed residual waste by 2042, what practical steps should FMs take now to ready themselves and get costs and carbon under control? Dr Stephen Wise explains how facilities managers can get ahead of the legislation.

Dr Stephen Wise is the Chief Strategic Development Officer for biotechnology business Advetec. Stephen has more than 20 years’ experience in the waste, renewables and environment sector and his expertise spans operations, technical and engineering services across all waste treatments technologies, policies and regulations.

Stephen is a board member of the Industrial Biotechnology and Innovation Centre (IBioIC), the Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland (Cre), and industrial advisor to Cranfield University, an active member of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and the Irish Waste Management Association and a member of various expert panels for the sector. He has run multi-million-pound activities for many market-leading companies including Suez, Renewi, Cementir, Ricardo, Wood Group and Energia.

 

"The flipside of a national target that is 20 years away is that it can seem there’s no need to act yet. But by setting a shorter-term cost savings target, it can galvanise internal and external FM teams, not to mention the wider supply chain, into making clever changes now. Set against the backdrop of rising waste costs and an increasing focus on ESG goals, all possible cost savings and green improvements should be embraced without delay."

 

 Getting Ahead of the Environment Act Changes

 

Recently, the UK Government announced plans to halve the amount of Mixed Residual Waste (MRW) that goes to landfill or incineration by 2042.

As a target designed to foster change as part of the Environment Act, even the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) itself has described it as “ambitious” and highlighted it will require “significant behavioural” change to achieve.

For FMs with responsibility for the procurement and management of waste management services, this presents a new set of considerations, and interestingly, an opportunity to get ahead and reduce cost and carbon emissions immediately.

 

Tackling a Lack of Understanding in FM

 

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of MRW is in relation to the widespread ignorance about it.

MRW is waste that can’t be recycled because of the presence of organic matter and other contaminants. It exists largely because of human behaviour and the limitations of the UK’s recycling infrastructure. So, you might think that when a discarded plastic bottle containing liquid, or a cardboard sandwich box containing crusts, goes into a general waste bin it will be sorted, so that the recyclable elements are removed.

On the contrary – because of the presence of organic matter this waste can’t be sorted. It isn’t recycled. Not enough FMs know this and unfortunately, this lack of understanding often extends to waste handlers too.

 

Image

Picture: a photograph of Dr Stephen Wise. Image Credit: Advetec

 

So as organisations and their facilities managers strive to achieve their ESG goals and start to think about how they will halve mixed residual waste –  we have to tackle what we think we know about waste. That means bringing the 11 million tonnes of mixed residual waste that go to landfill and the 17 million tonnes that go for incineration each year – into the spotlight.

This need for greater environmental responsibility is also set against a backdrop of increasingly onerous fiscal pressures. The imminent 55 per cent price increase to red diesel, which most waste producers run their plant and equipment on, means FMs can expect to see significant cost increases for waste services, almost overnight.  Combined with increasing disposal costs at traditional Energy from Waste (EfW) incineration plants and landfill sites, it’s clear that FMs and their waste partners can’t keep doing more of the same. It is time to change.  

 

Waste Management – Tips for Carbon and Cost Savings

 

To benefit from more cost and carbon-friendly alternatives now, there is a number of practical steps FMs should take:

 

  1. Audit your waste handler – Half of FMs have never audited their waste handler – yet it’s the best way to understand waste streams, hold waste handlers to account and make more informed decisions. We’ve seen waste handlers fail to give an accurate reflection of where clients’ waste really goes, on a number of occasions. It’s important to check that your waste doesn’t get mixed with other businesses’ waste and then transported to landfill. If you’re still being told that none of your waste goes to landfill for example, then it’s probably going to incineration. In an age where greenwashing, be it deliberate or accidental, can have serious reputational consequences it’s important to understand where ALL of your waste goes (rather than where it doesn’t), what that in means in terms of cost and carbon, and to have a transparent, trusted and collaborative relationship with your waste partner. Knowledge is power.
  2. Investigate and embrace green-technologies – Reduce the reliance on the mainstream landfill or EfW options by researching and talking with innovators in the marketplace. If you’ve got largely quantities of food waste going to EfW or landfill – look at anaerobic digestion which can be used to produce biogas.  For mixed residual waste – use biotechnology as a means to process it on-site, remove the organic fraction and reduce its mass and volume by 50 per cent and 70 per cent respectively, which means the need for fewer collections. Plus, the floc that’s created by this process is well suited for processing as a solid recovered fuel (which benefits the circular economy) and costs 40 per cent less to dispose of, compared with landfill or conventional mass burn EfW.
  3. Think more broadly – Scope Three emissions refer to indirect emissions that occur within a company’s value chain. This includes those associated with waste services such as the road-related carbon output of journeys to collect your waste, as well as the carbon emitted by the waste itself. Technologies that require fewer and less frequent road miles provide genuine Scope Three gains quickly.
  4. Set fiscal targets to help drive wider change – The flipside of a national target that is 20 years away is that it can seem there’s no need to act yet. But by setting a shorter-term cost savings target, it can galvanise internal and external FM teams, not to mention the wider supply chain, into making clever changes now. Set against the backdrop of rising waste costs and an increasing focus on ESG goals, all possible cost savings and green improvements should be embraced without delay.
  5. Talk to your peers – All FMs are facing the same challenges. Take the time to hear from others in your profession, be that through LinkedIn groups, industry events, professional associations, magazines or social media.  The more challenges and potential solutions are discussed, and success stories and social proof are shared – the quicker the FM industry will improve its knowledge and help organisations to make more informed and sustainable choices.

 

In a world of changing fiscal, policy and economic changes, Defra has cast the spotlight on MRW in a very positive way. It’s highlighted the importance of addressing this waste stream for the first time – a decision that should help to educate us each and every one of us about the waste we generate, where it goes and the implications of that.

The biggest hope of all is that Defra’s goal will spark greater uptake of the UK’s alternative technologies and innovative solutions – not just to meet a 2042 legislative target, but because they can deliver the cost and carbon certainty that is so very much needed in 2022.

Picture: a photograph of a person holding a black bin liner full of rubbish above a round black bin. Image Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds Via Adobe Stock

Article written by Dr Stephen Wise | Published 29 March 2022

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