Why will effective waste management be more important than ever before in 2019?

The importance of an effective waste management strategy

Waste management, resource security and sustainability are all pertinent buzzwords from 2018 – and whether you work in the manufacturing, hospitality, education, oil and gas, or chemicals industries, they won’t be disappearing anytime soon. With an increasing focus from the Government to create a more environmentally-friendly and carbon-neutral society, what role will waste management play, and why will it be higher on the corporate agenda than ever before in 2019? James Tyler, director at Food Waste and Energy-from-Waste expert Tidy Planet, recently offered his thoughts to Process Industry Informer

Waste, in almost all its forms, has been at the forefront of governmental and public discussion over the last twelve months. From starting the year with the Prime Minister’s 25-Year Environment Plan – outlining the Government’s target to eliminate all preventable plastic waste by 2042 and all avoidable waste by 2050 – to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, China’s ban on plastic waste imports, and the launch of the UK Plastics Pact, it’s been a very busy year for waste regulation targets and policy updates.

The mounting legislative pressure from the UK Government is one of the primary reasons why firms across the country will be focusing even more on managing their wastes more effectively and efficiently in 2019. With lots of noise in the media about plastic waste and environmental responsibility, it’s more commonplace that businesses feel a sense of duty to ‘do their bit’ for the environment. This has been reflected in various companies’ actions such as Merlin Entertainments banning single-use plastic straws, Walkers launching the first national crisp packet recycling initiative and Morrisons’ debut of a trial deposit return scheme. But it’s not just the UK where companies have been seen to be fighting the waste battle, Norway made the headlines towards the end of 2018 when it was revealed that it was using fish waste to power its cruise ships. These examples perfectly illustrate how the positive shift in mentality towards being ‘green’ is and will continue to encourage more brands to close the loop in the coming year.

This then ties in with the idea that brand reputation will remain a major driver in the upping of the waste-management ante. While it’s hoped that the majority of companies that implement measures to take control of their waste are acting out of genuine concern and care for our planet, there is a little more realistic and somewhat cynical side to this same coin, which recognises that the underlying foundation of most business decisions is competitiveness – or commerciality.

With rising public demand for more ethical and ecological products, companies that show reverence to environmental policy and reducing the amount of waste destined for landfill, depict themselves – from a consumer perspective – in a much more appealing light. Therefore, a ‘greenwashing’ element has to be taken into consideration when it comes to assessing why waste management may be more visible on the corporate radar this year. However, whether a business closes its waste loop out of a desire to be eco-friendlier, or simply as a marketing instrument to gain publicity and brand loyalty, the waste minimisation outcome is the same. It’s in this sense that corporate peer pressure could indeed be an encouragement tool when it comes to further investment and action this year.

In an age where companies are ceaselessly looking to make their business operations savvier, optimising the waste process by closing the loop will likely take off even further in 2019. In a recent report – conducted by Mintel – on global food and drink trends, it was revealed that adopting a more circular approach to business and extracting full use from materials, is what consumers want to see. It also highlighted that as societal understanding around the topic continues to rise, 2019 will be the year more corporate sustainability programmes are implemented.

As mentioned above, policy changes in countries such as China, Malaysia and Vietnam – regarding plastic waste imports – will also play an important part in steering companies towards adopting an autonomous approach to their wastes. With China having received circa 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste for decades, the country’s sudden new stance on inbound waste unmistakably shook up the recycling industry and highlighted that the country’s waste policy and infrastructure were unsustainable. In 2019, it’s highly likely that this will proceed to act as a domino effect, whereby countries that still accept vast tonnes of overseas waste, also plug the import stream. As a result, this will not only force companies to take stock and think more carefully about alternative waste management options, but it will also be down to official governing bodies to streamline the UK’s existing recycling infrastructure, so that it can cope with processing waste more efficiently.

Aside from governmental and corporate stimuli, effective waste management will be even more prevalent because an evolving number of wastes are being recognised as having great resource potential. The truth is that this has always been the case, but with the rapid evolution of waste and recycling technologies, more is becoming possible in this sector. Taking the fish waste example mentioned earlier, gone are the days when solely plastic, paper and glass could be recycled – organic waste, WEEE, fish mortalities and carpets are all either being used to create a valuable resource – whether that be in the form of compost or energy – or recycled into other products. As a result, there’s been a heightened emphasis on Energy-from-Waste sweeping the headlines over the past year, and 2019 looks to be in-keeping with this trend.

It’s no secret that when waste management is executed correctly across a company – from supply chain efficiency, through to equipment investment – it often leads to a positive increase in bottom-line revenue, such as reduced costs associated with off-site waste disposal. And this is an additional reason why businesses will be striving to adopt improved habits and approaches to their waste materials.

This is an interesting and fair point, because as recycling and waste recovery enters consumer consciousness, expectation will grow that companies are taking the necessary combative and minimisation measures. Taking food waste as an example, September 2018 saw 90 of the UK’s biggest businesses within the UK food and grocery industry back an ambitious Food Waste Reduction Roadmap developed by WRAP and IDG. The overarching aim is for these firms to reduce food waste across business operations and decrease the farm-to-fork wastage by 50% by 2030.

Coincidentally, DEFRA’s recently published Resources and Waste Strategy also echoes the circular-economy sentiment outlined above. With plans to introduce separate food waste collections to households England-wide by 2023, and greater emphasis on producer responsibility – when it comes to paying the costs of managing their own waste packaging – and it’s initiatives and policies such as these which we’ll no doubt be seeing more of over the coming months.

Waste management may always have been on the agenda for some businesses, but there’s no doubting that the coming year will see this priority scale the importance rankings even further. And with our environment and natural resources at risk if we do not look to preserve our planet, the question need not be asked as to why 2019 should be the year that waste ownership is championed by all organisations.

Follow us on Twitter for more news and updates @TidyPlanet