Waste shows its potential

SMEs can benefit both economically and environmentally from waste. Ian Goodfellow explains how the waste management industry, the Responsibility Deal and new regulation are all making a difference

A worker at the Cumbernauld anaerobic digestion plant

A worker at the Cumbernauld anaerobic digestion plant


Managing and reducing environmental impacts is becoming increasingly important for small, medium and large businesses alike. Not just because of legislation and mandatory programmes, such as the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, but because environmental responsibility makes financial sense. What business would argue against cost efficiencies in a climate where budget cuts and competitive advantage dominate decision making?

Sustainable waste management, through waste reduction, recycling, energy recovery and ultimately landfill avoidance, is crucial to this agenda. According to Defra, UK businesses have the potential to save up to £18B a year by taking steps to reduce waste and divert it from landfill - not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions that could be saved.

However, despite the waste management industry making major progress in recent years to modernise the UK's approach to waste management, it has also been criticised for making business recycling services and contracts overly complex and cumbersome. In addition, many local authorities do not offer a business collection service, which means some small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in particular can find it difficult to access sustainable waste and recycling solutions. As a result, SMEs are often prevented from realising the full resource potential of waste.

Time to take responsibility
Recognising this issue and keen to build on progress already made, the UK Government and waste industry body the Environmental Services Association (ESA) launched a groundbreaking Responsibility Deal earlier this year. Designed to further improve the management of waste as a resource, the deal sets out an agreed set of commitments, including a pledge to 'help businesses to do the right thing'. Specifically, the priorities are to improve recycling services for SMEs, provide better information on how to prevent and deal with waste and cut burdens and red tape for good performers.

The ESA and Federation of Small Businesses will also work together to develop and promote best practice on making contracts more user-friendly. The success of this commitment will be measured in 2014 via a survey of FSB members. It is intended that more survey respondents will: know what their responsibilities on waste management are; know what they can do to prevent waste and deal with what arises in the best way for the environment; and are happy with the waste management services offered to them, compared to a 2011 baseline.

Making more from waste
As a subscriber to the Responsibility Deal and leader in sustainable alternatives to landfill and incineration for waste, Shanks is fully committed to supporting its business waste customers with innovative, effective and efficient solutions. The company already provides general waste collection, recycling and recovery services to thousands of UK companies, helping them to save money by making more from waste. These include recycling services for glass, cardboard, paper, newspapers, plastic films and bottles, steel and aluminium cans, WEEE waste, secure destruction of confidential waste and turning general waste into Solid Recovered Fuel for energy recovery via a process called Mechanical Biological Treatment.

Through a combination of these services, Shanks has helped many of its SME customers to achieve more than 90% diversion from landfill. For example, high performance engineering company Cosworth, which manufacturers Formula One engines and high precision components for the aerospace and defence industries, diverts approximately 78 tonnes of waste from landfill each year. The company segregates its cardboard, paper, wood and metal waste (42%) for recycling by Shanks; has its bulky items (12%) collected from skips and processed at Shanks' Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Kettering; and its general waste (44%) processed at a local MBT plant. In recognition of its recycling achievements, Cosworth has been acknowledged with a 'Gold Award' in the National Recycling Stars scheme, which is open to all businesses to reward recycling best practice.

Relishing the food waste challenge
Thanks to significant investment in anaerobic digestion (AD) technology by companies including Shanks, it is also becoming much easier for businesses to recycle their unavoidable food waste and turn it instead into valuable resources and fuel to generate green energy.

Shanks recently opened an AD plant in Cumbernauld, Glasgow, which will process 60ktpa of food waste a year, generating 22,500MWhr of renewable energy - enough to power more than 3,000 homes. A joint-venture with Scottish-based Energen Biogas, the facility is treating organic waste from Shanks' commercial customers in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which are now benefiting from new food waste collections at no extra cost. Businesses that sign up to the food waste collections are provided with a 240 litre wheeled bin, which they are encouraged to put bags of food waste into. Where outside space is an issue, as is the case in the older parts of Edinburgh city centre, Shanks is exploring alternative ways to make the service available.

Land Securities is one of Shanks' customers taking advantage of the new food waste collection at The Centre in Livingston. Already recycling approximately 82,000kgs of waste per month, made up of segregated cardboard, polythene, paper, timber, glass and mixed recyclables, The Centre is currently diverting 86% of its waste from landfill. However, Land Securities' ultimate goal is zero waste to landfill; a target that the new food waste collection will help to achieve by diverting an additional 23,000kgs of food, which is either waste, unsold or past its sell-by date, from The Centre's restaurants and cafés.

Scotland takes the regulatory route
The Responsibility Deal between government and the waste management sector will benefit businesses across the UK, provided they choose a waste management partner that has signed up to the commitments. In Scotland, the Government has taken its responsibilities to realising the full resource potential of waste a step further by choosing to go down the regulatory route. Just over a year since the Scottish Government launched its Zero Waste Plan, it is now establishing the statutory framework that will allow Scotland to achieve its target of 70% recycling by 2025.

The Zero Waste Regulations will include a requirement for businesses to separate glass, metal, plastic, paper, card and food by 2013, with small businesses having until 2015 to separate out food. There will also be a ban on municipal biodegradable waste going to landfill by 2020, the first of its type in the UK. 

While it is still early days, the ambitious approach to food waste recycling adopted by the Scottish Government is already bearing fruit. As highlighted above, the region is attracting investment in new recycling and recovery infrastructure with businesses taking full advantage.

The waste management industry is making great strides towards creating the knowledge base and infrastructure required to realise the full resource potential of waste. Add to this progress the Responsibility Deal and Scottish Zero Waste Regulations and SMEs across the UK have a significant opportunity to make more from waste - both environmentally and economically.

Ian Goodfellow is the UK managing director of the waste management group Shanks


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