SABINA puts waste minimisation to work on corporate sustainability

Can waste minimisation help a company move towards becoming a more sustainable operation? SABINA, the recent Severn Estuary project, says 'yes'. Here's how.

Process innovation at Burton's Biscuits has been a significant factor in the reduction of food waste and waste water involving production line staff.

Process innovation at Burton's Biscuits has been a significant factor in the reduction of food waste and waste water involving production line staff.

Installation of a new furnace and lime treatment facility for flue gases at Blagden Packaging has reduced particulate and VOCs by more than 95%.
As the number of waste minimisation demonstration projects has grown over recent years, organisers of some of the larger schemes have sought to do more than simply prove to companies that reducing waste at source cuts costs and reduces their environmental impact. They have tried to demonstrate how these benefits apply in different industry sectors and among companies of varying size as well as to look at options for paying for consultancy services. The results have provided best practice examples for a wide range of companies, large and small. Now, in addition to reinforcing the cost-saving arguments for waste minimisation, project organisers are beginning to explore the potential for waste minimisation to contribute towards a culture of sustainable development.

SABINA, the recently concluded Severn Estuary waste minimisation project, is a case in point. Short for Sustainable Business In Action, SABINA is the flagship project of the Welsh Office 'Business and Environment Campaign' and represents the efforts of a wide range of organisations, in addition to the 11 participating companies.

Managed by WSP Environmental, and sponsored by the Environment Agency, Dow Corning Ltd and The Welsh Development Agency, the project drew on the support of the Environmental Technology Best Practice Programme and local business contacts provided by Wales Environment Centre, Western Partnership for Sutainable Development and Caerphilly Borough Council.

During the course of the project, which started in October 1998, cost savings of £100,000 per month have been achieved with a further £1.5 million of feasible options to be implemented shortly. The total annual potential savings to date currently stand at almost £3m with £1.5m of these savings already actioned. Of some 200 waste minimisation opportunities, approximately 100 are feasible, with relatively few (20%) requiring capital expenditure.

These savings have translated into significant environmental benefits including water conservation, energy saving, less waste disposal to landfill, cleaner air emissions and reductions in hazardous waste arisings.

But while most companies joined SABINA for the anticipated cost savings (a goal followed closely by assistance towards achieving ISO 14001), SABINA has tapped into something much bigger. Staff awareness and enthusiasm for waste minimisation created as a result of the project has been the starting point for further activity between participants and across their supply chains.

The SABINA workshop seminars, in particular, provided a unique forum for encouraging discussion among participating companies about common themes which affect both manufacturing and construction industries and through the presentation of case studies.

Shared experience

SABINA workshops encouraged new interest in long established problem areas for industry such as wooden pallets and drums. The involvement of Pontrilas Packaging and Blagden Packaging, for example, was particularly helpful in assessing the reasons why pallets or drums are rejected by recyclers, in identifying alternatives to landfilling and in setting up of transport links with suppliers to collect either pallets or drums.

By introducing a new 'Drum Acceptance Policy' and visiting company sites to check the status of drums being accepted from the participating companies, the company has created a closer working relationship with customers and reduced costs. While several drum consignments from project participants had previously been rejected due to excess waste in the drums, this issue has now been addressed with fewer drums going to landfill and more drums being reconditioned for use.

Supplier links

Although supplier involvement was not a significant factor affecting a company's decision to participate in SABINA, and the majority of companies were already working closely with both suppliers and customers, the project produced some 45 supplier-related initiatives. These include long-term initiatives and increasing awareness of customer issues, particularly packaging, material/component quality, recycling and re-use.

One example is the area of packaging waste and how to reduce it. All SABINA members have considered options for minimising packaging under The Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997, but SABINA helped them to address some of the strategic barriers to recycling, such as the variation in wooden pallet size which restricts re-use, and the need for other standard designs for transit packaging including steel coils and construction materials.

SABINA membership has also helped individual members focus on making specific packaging related supply-chain improvements. Avesta Sheffield, for example, introduced an initiative to collect and return wooden pallets used for the transportation of steel coil products, to its pallet supplier, Pontrilas Group Packaging, for refurbishment and re-use. Another member, Knorr Bremse, now returns timber pallets used to deliver cardboard boxes for re-use by its supplier, CentrePak. There are many similar examples illustrating the reduction of packaging waste.

Process waste was identified as the biggest area of potential cost savings in the project with 50% of all savings being achieved through this means.

Optimisation of process conditions, innovative ideas from production staff, improved supplier quality control and comparisons between similar product lines have all contributed to a reduction in waste and the use of raw materials.

The treatment of process waste also provided opportunities for shared benefits for customers and suppliers. Cray Valley introduced a system for the partial treatment and separation of xylene water which has significantly reduced costs of waste being tankered to special landfill sites. The treated xylene waste is reprocessed by Chemical Recoveries who then sell back the refined xylene for use by Cray Valley as a chemical cleaning agent. In addition, the waste sludge which is also produced by Cray Valley may have a further application by a bitumen company. Overall the waste to landfill has been reduced by 60%.

Construction industry

How to influence the supply chain in the context of the construction industry was a key issue for Tarmac Building. One of the industry's problems is the sheer number of suppliers which are required for any given construction site, the changes in suppliers reflecting the phase of construction and the unique supplier requirements for individual sites. To overcome these problems, Tarmac Building has been assessing the specific issues at each stage of the contract beginning with procurement of subcontractors and suppliers with consideration of opportunities to minimise waste through both reduced raw materials and more efficient use of materials on site. During the SABINA project, a questionnaire was developed to help in the selection of potential suppliers. While cost is still a major selection criteria, a more comprehensive tender document has had the effect of raising awareness about waste minimisation among procurement managers and project managers. Another approach tested at the Hilton Hotel site, Cardiff, was to prepare a waste management plan outlining potential areas for waste mimisation, potential costs savings for a variety of recycling opportunities and relevant legislative requirements. The lessons learned there are being applied on new projects.


The SABINA project also encouraged companies to see the links between waste minimisation and environmental management systems, and in many cases, helped them towards ISO 14001 accreditation.

The method used was adapted to be similar to the processes required for an EMS, based on the IChemE Waste Minimisation Manual, with specific modifications for incorporating Management Reviews and a programme for continuous improvement. The waste review undertaken at each of the sites involved both consultants and company team representatives ensuring that companies were able to take ownership of the proposed waste minimisation activities.

Pushing boundaries

By pushing the boundaries of waste minimisation and investigating the potential for waste reduction through supplier links, by encouraging co-operation between participants and by exploring the implementation of EMS, SABINA has prepared the ground for the business sector contribution to a sustainable development culture within the Severn Estuary area.

The project results will help to focus new waste initiatives in the area, and will ultimately assist the Severn Estuary Strategy Group, a partnership of local authorities and government organisations, in promoting sustainable development within the Estuary area.

Participating companies

Avesta Sheffield (stainless steel products)
Burton's Biscuits (biscuits and snack products)
Cray Valley (synthetic resins)
Pilkington (UK) (glass products)
Pontrilas Packaging(packaging products, mainly timber and metal)
Tarmac Building (construction)
Yuasa Battery (lead-acid batteries)
Blagden Packaging (refurbishment of drums)
Knorr Bremse (SCV) (HGV braking units)
Rexam Medical Packaging (medical packaging)

Environmental Benefits


Water conservation measures have been introduced in 50% of the companies, typically giving a 10-15% reduction since 1996. Of these, Avesta Sheffield, Burton's Biscuits, Knorr Bremse and Rolls-Royce have achieved a combined reduction of 35,000m3 per year of potable water. On the basis that a person sues an average 140litres/day, the water savings from these companies equates to the total domestic water-use for a population of 700 people over one year.


Rolls-Royce has introduced a number of energy saving measures across their site including low energy lighting in three of its manufacturing divisions. This has achieved total energy savings of 525,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) per year. Based on the assumption that 20kwh is equivalent to 5.5kg of carbon dioxide, this saving in energy is equivalent to approximatley 29t of CO2/y - a valuable contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases and global warming.

Landfill waste

A preliminary assessment of specific construction industry sites and wastes have identified a possible 20% reduction in skips containing plasterborad and a 75% reduction in skips containing blockwork wastes. Monitoring of 13 different types of waste from a hotel site in Cardiff also established that two skips of waste were generated for each of the 93 bedrooms.

Avesta Sheffield and Cray Valley have both reduced their waste to landfill by 15%, equivalent to more than 200t annually. Standardisation of packaging cases and refurbishment of wooden pallets through a tracking system set up in co-operation with Pontrilas Packaging has contributed to the reduction in waste to local landfill sites.

Air quality

The reduction in emissions to air have mainly been achieved through the introduction of improved process operations. For example, the installation of a new furnace and lime treatment facility for flue gases as Blagden Packaging has reduced particulate and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in to the atmosphere by more than 95%.

Process waste

Process innovation at Burton's Biscuits has been a significant factor in the reduction of food waste and waste water involving production line s taff. An assessment of unplanned process waste at Rexam Medical Packaging has established that most is produced during the first 24 hours of production. Increasing the length of specific production campaigns and focusing effort on the two main sources of waste has reduced waste levels by 36%.

The reduction of hazardous waste arising from several companies has provided examples of direct benefits to the environment in the Severn Estuary area, e.g. the reduction of xylene wastewater taken to special landfill sites by tanker from Cray Valley has been reduced by 60% which is equivalent to 2,500t per year. Following trials at Uasa Battery, neutralisation of the wastewater has also resulted in a 95% reduction in the quantity of lead in the effluent, through settling of lead oxide. This will contribute to improvements in water quality in the Severn Estuary.



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