Is your waste vision a shapeshifter?

Too often businesses treat their waste management contract as a routine purchase instead of the driver for change that it can be, argues Kate Cawley

WRAP’s chief executive Liz Goodwin recently called on the waste sector to lead a shift in attitudes, to consider all waste materials as a resource. Businesses need to see their waste management provider as a strategic partner rather than a routine service, to allow us to deliver this change.

Goodwin is right, communication is at the heart of this, but for this to happen we need to be able to communicate at all levels of the businesses where we work so that we can both educate and facilitate change in the workplace.

In our experience people are more aware of their environmental impact and considerations at work than at home, especially people at the front line of manufacturing or engineering processes, where they are working directly with the raw materials. However the systems and structures are often not in place in the workplace to allow employers to treat the materials they work with as a resource and the default setting therefore has to be ‘throw away’.

Staff on the production line know that some waste is an inevitable part of the system, but are given no encouragement to do anything about it, other than simply get on with their jobs, and not worry about what happens to the waste fraction they happen to be producing as their part in the overall manufacturing process.

Too often the waste management contract is considered a routine purchase, where the key performance indicators are based around cost, collection frequency and diversion from landfill. These are the right targets of course, but they’re missing something.

How many procurement officers would think to frame a target around ‘influencing hearts and minds’ as part of their waste management contact? As long as the terms of the contract are based on routine, systematic measurements, then the service will only deliver to this level too. As a corollary of this, the staff will almost certainly have a perfunctory approach to waste as well, with the ‘just throw it away’ attitude I mentioned earlier.

It is even harder in small organisations where the pressure on time and money is often greater, and the owner/manager who just wants a reliable, cost effective waste collection service will almost certainly feel that getting staff to treat waste as a resource, and have a hearts and minds campaign as part of the waste collection service, is not top priority.

But we know it is possible to make the waste management contract a driver for a change. Introducing a new waste collection system makes it possible to collect the waste and divert it from landfill. To translate that action into an attitude shift, rather than a small change to the production process, requires communication.

Understanding why the new systems have been introduced, what happens to the materials, how much good is being done through the use of that material; it is this understanding which turns a waste collection service into a staff engagement process and brings about attitude change.

When waste management businesses like ours are given the opportunity to work holistically within an organisation, and manage the staff communication as well as the waste management services, much as we have done for clients such as Adelie or Westfield, then the waste sector will be able to deliver the attitude change Goodwin is calling for.

Even in the SME market change its possible, after all wouldn’t it be great if the simple every day act of gathering waste was actually something which motivated staff and helped to increase job satisfaction?

To take waste management to this next level does take effort. It means looking for and offering clients new routes and technologies for their waste – treating it is a resource – and the client might need to allow new terms of reference or rewards for their waste contractor so that communication is part of the solution too.

Kate Cawley is business development manager at WasteSolve (Cawley Group)

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