With the ever spiralling cost of waste disposal, finding real alternatives has become a top priority, as Tim Reed explains
Against a background of new legislation and dwindling landfill resources, customers are becoming more interested in the environmental performance of their suppliers, and waste producers are coming under greater scrutiny.
Add to this the spiralling costs, and it is not hard to see why waste disposal, which was until recently a low priority, is now a hot topic for everyone.
The days of concentrating on the key purpose of your business without worrying about its impact on the environment are long gone. From a waste-management perspective, you are now required to know where all waste that leaves your site is going and how it is getting there.
So what can you do as a waste producer to ensure that you do not fall foul of all this legislation, while keeping your expenditure on waste down to a reasonable level?
The good news is that there is a great deal you can do and there are a number of simple steps which, when applied to your business, will give an opportunity to slash costs.
Think about your waste
The first and most simple is to think about your waste. Not an attractive proposition but potentially very beneficial. Consider:
In order to answer these questions properly, you will need to audit your bins; not a pleasant pastime but essential to understand properly what you are throwing away. To understand where waste is generated you will also need to review those of your processes that produce waste.
Once you know what you are producing, it is important to consider the following:
Then comes the issue of cost. What is your waste costing you? There are several things to consider here:
When you calculate the true cost of waste to your business, you are likely to be in for a shock. It is also healthy (but painful) to think in terms of the amount you need to sell as a business to finance this cost.
Now that you know what your waste is and what it is costing, you are in a position to do something about it. Again, the good news here is that the biggest gains can be made through the simplest steps.
Are your waste containers full when they are being emptied? Everyone invariably says yes, but the only way to be sure is to be present at the point of collection. It is not unusual for a process to change, resulting in less waste, but nobody remembers to reduce the frequency of collections.
If the bins are regularly only 80% full, reduce frequency of collections by 20%. It sounds obvious but it is remarkable how often this is overlooked.
Throw away waste, not air. It costs the same to empty a full bin as an empty one. The main general waste modes, for example 1,100-litre bins, Front End Loader (FEL) and Rear End Loader (REL) are all charged based on a fixed assumed weight. In other words, whether the bin contains the waste or not, you will be charged the full amount. For this reason, it is imperative to get as much in the bin as possible. Before it is collapsed, a cardboard box is at least 90% air.
Do you have the right container?
Different waste containers are designed for different waste streams. Builders’ open skips are designed for heavy, non-compactable waste. As they are one-trip modes, they must be taken to the point of disposal for emptying. They are significantly more expensive to run, therefore, than compaction modes such as wheelie bins and FELs, which are collected by mobile compaction vehicles, which can empty many bins on each round.
Therefore, if you are putting light, general waste into a skip, you could be spending more than you need to. Additionally, if you are putting heavy waste such as soil or building rubble into a wheelie bin or FEL, it will only be a matter of time until your waste contractor is on the phone complaining.
What can be easily recycled?
Two of the most common waste streams, cardboard and polythene, share two important characteristics – they are both bulky and light (and likely to result in an airy bin) and they both have a value when recycled. They are also generally easy to segregate.
Depending on the volumes produced, it can make sense to bale these materials and sell them to reprocessors, who will pay good prices particularly for clean materials. Office paper can similarly be easily recycled, and there are many office paper recycling service providers throughout the country.
Try to sell wooden pallets, or if this is not possible give them away; the lost value will be significantly less than paying to dispose of them. After carrying out these simple but potentially massively beneficial steps, look at how waste is generated in your organisation.
What processes are producing waste? How much waste is generated from manufacturing processes on site, for example swarf from machining? How much is packaging from materials or components bought in? How much is produced by the everyday activities of staff?
Each of these areas should be investigated in detail with each waste stream scrutinised for how it can be reduced or eliminated altogether.
Small changes in the volumes of some wastes (particularly hazardous wastes) can make substantial differences to cost. If a waste cannot be reduced, look at how its characteristics can be changed to make it a less difficult waste.
A major waste stream for many companies is packaging on materials or components bought in.
Carry out the following assessment:
If you are stuck with significant volumes of wood, crush it on site before sending it away to be recycled. This will maximise container utilisation and reduce haulage costs.
Alternatively, consider burning it in a biomass generator, which will not only dispose of it at very low cost but will also generate useful energy that can be used on site. Segregate waste at source – the best time to segregate waste is at the point of generation.
This approach will involve the least effort (and hence cost), will prevent cross contamination of wastes (very important where hazardous wastes are produced), and will involve staff in recycling thereby fostering a recycling culture.
Compact light wastes to reduce their volume. As a significant component of the cost of waste disposal is transport, compacting your waste will result in less vehicle movements and hence less cost.
Reduce moisture content of wastes. This has two benefits. Firstly, liquid wastes are banned from landfills, and therefore wastes with high moisture contents could be turned away. Secondly, water is very heavy and expensive to transport. Landfill disposal costs are also weight-based, which means that disposing of water in waste is as expensive to dispose of as the waste itself.
While these measures can all make a substantial difference to the cost of waste to your company, a failure to adhere to the rules when it comes to waste management legislation can be extremely expensive both in terms of fines and bad publicity for your company.
As the producer of the waste, you are required to know where the waste is going when it leaves your site and where its final place of disposal is. You must ensure that all operators handling the waste are licensed to do so, and should retain copies of their licenses. A Waste Transfer note is required for all movements of waste (including materials for recycling).
If you are producing more than 200kg of hazardous waste a year, you are required to register with the Environment Agency. You are required to keep detailed records of all of the above. The penalties for failing to stick to the requirements can be substantial, so ensure that you do not undo all of the good work of reducing your waste only to be tripped up by failing to keep proper records.
Waste minimisation is a substantial subject. A full analysis of a company’s waste streams can constitute a major project but, by applying these simple processes, significant savings can be made for comparatively little effort.
Tim Reed is Managing Director of Waste Efficiency. To find out more, you can attend a seminar at the Solihull Indoor Golf Centre on 7 December Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
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