Waste Management Strategy: Your Questions, Our Answers

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Christine Paul-Bray Head of Water and Waste Services Development, Europe

Exploring Strategies for Sustainable & Cost-Effective Waste Management in Europe

Every single year from this past decade brought about 786 million tonnes of waste in the EU, which is a major source of pollution and a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In the wake of this Climate Decade, we all understand the challenges that face us if we do not collectively work towards climate change mitigation targets set out by the United Nations. In light of this, organisations should commit to integrate efficient consumption and production patterns in their operations, securing the success of their sustainability strategy, whilst maximising profitability.

Understanding how your organisation is generating waste—to inform a robust waste management strategy—is a good practice to start the coming year.

Recently I had the pleasure of moderating a one-hour webinar, “No Time To Waste,” where I was joined by waste experts from NatWest Group, Buro Happold and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) to explore best practices to develop and implement the most effective waste management plan in Europe.

We covered today’s hot topics in waste, including how to gain visibility into waste practices through data collection and analysis, understanding waste regulations and defining objectives, and identifying opportunities for optimisation.

If you missed the webinar, you can view the full recording here.

Answers to Your Most Pressing Waste Questions

The webinar ended with a lively Q&A session, and I wanted to answer some of the questions we did not have time to address during our time together.

1. Who is ultimately responsible for waste materials that cannot be recycled or reused? Is it the producer or the consumer?

Consumers are responsible for the waste they generate. The basic principle is that each person is responsible for the waste that they discard, and similarly, a company is responsible for waste materials that leave its premises. For companies, the consumer responsibility has been extended in some countries; for example, with the Duty of Care principle in the UK. Under this principle, the company cannot simply sign-off its responsibility for the waste that is collected by the third-party waste collector – it remains (at least partly) responsible for what happens to the waste after it leaves the premises.

Companies operating under this principle need to prove that they have contracted with a fully licenced waste management company, and they also need to keep a waste registry to document where different waste streams are being taken and how they are being treated. Failure to track what is happening to waste after it is collected from a company’s premises is considered as non-compliant with Duty of Care and may incur a penalty.

Under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies, producers are made responsible for the waste treatment cost of products or materials that they provide or sell into the market. EPR policies started emerging in the 1990s and are similar to Product Stewardship legislation in the USA and Australia.

EPR schemes assign a share of responsibility to producers for the post-consumption treatment or disposal of products, or the financing of a system which does so. In the EU, such policies are in place for batteries, electronic and electrical equipment, end-of-life vehicles, packaging, and used oils, among others. EPR can take different forms, including reuse, buy-back or recycling programmes – the financial burden of which is carried by manufacturers and included in the product price.

2. Waste management within large organisations often operates in a silo, focussing on compliance, legal disposal, and correct invoicing. What recommendations do you have for companies wanting to adopt a more data-informed waste management plan to reduce the volume of waste produced in their business operations?

The shift from a simple compliance-driven waste policy towards a more ambitious waste and sustainability strategy requires endorsement from a company’s management. Research shows that reducing waste often leads to financial savings, which can align a company’s environmental and financial objectives.

Bringing different teams around the table is often the best first step to aligning on a new sustainability strategy. A waste consultant can help to run a workshop and federate different teams around a common objective. Once the rationale for more sustainable waste practices has been agreed, tracking the right data and KPIs would be the next step.

3. Would you recommend the Carbon Trust Standard for Zero Waste to Landfill?

The Carbon Trust Standard is an internationally recognised reporting standard that helps organisations demonstrate leadership in carbon, water, and waste management. Its Zero Waste to Landfill standard can certainly be a meaningful step towards better waste management practices for some organisations. However, it’s important to be aware of these aspects:

  1. The Standard includes incineration with energy recovery – more commonly referred to as Waste to Energy (WtE) – among its definitions of ‘diverted from landfill’ without placing a limit on energy recovery. This makes it easy for those who rely on this treatment method to obtain accreditation. Other standards either place a limit on the acceptability of WtE, or don’t consider WtE as a type of diversion.
  2. The definition of zero waste to landfill refers to all waste streams except ‘those with no permitted alternative treatment’, when landfilling is inevitable or unavoidable. This generally refers to the significant amounts of toxic fly ash resulting from the WtE process, or to regulated hazardous substances.
  3. The Standard is limited to waste treatment and doesn’t cover total levels of waste generated, waste reduction, or handling or sorting practices. The Carbon Trust does however have a separate standard – The Carbon Trust Waste Standard – which does address waste reduction, along with continued movement up the waste hierarchy.

Considering these points, the Zero Waste to Landfill Standard is still recommended as a useful guide for improving an organisation’s waste management practices.

4. Many companies simply measure and report on tonnes of waste produced and those which avoid landfill. How can businesses measure other factors, such as the carbon footprint of their waste stream?

Some companies focus only on measuring and reporting on the total annual volume of waste produced. While this might meet certain sustainability reporting requirements, it usually doesn’t allow companies to identify opportunities for optimisation, both from a cost perspective as well as from a waste generation perspective. To maximise efficiencies, organisations will need to measure both of these elements.

Organisations should analyse cost with invoice data management to understand how waste services are being charged for. To reduce waste, a more detailed understanding of waste streams and volumes per site is essential and will allow organisations to identify opportunities for waste and cost reduction by increasing reuse and recycling rates. A waste audit can be conducted to inform this understanding and to identify right-sizing opportunities.

Calculating a carbon footprint is measured by first gathering the right data and then applying the right methodology and conversion factors. ENGIE Impact assists organisations with waste data management, waste audits and carbon reporting tools and advisory services, adapting to the priorities and selected methodology of our clients.

ENGIE Impact Helps Solve Your Critical Waste Management Challenges

ENGIE Impact’s unique and comprehensive Waste Services offering enables companies throughout Europe and North America to achieve deeper visibility into their waste management practices, reduce costs, and progress towards sustainability goals while remaining compliant with complex and evolving waste regulations.

Thank you to our participants and contributors to this webinar: Claudette Jarvis, Waste and Environmental Analyst at NatWest Group; Jose Sorribes, Sr. Waste Management Consultant at Buro Happold; and Piotr Barczak, Policy Officer for Waste at the European Environmental Bureau.

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Learn more about how you can implement the most effective waste management strategy.