Waste contractors must take panoramic view and start to add value

As retailers start to drive waste minimisation through their supply chains, they are demanding more holistic thinking from the contractors that serve them. Kate Cawley explains further

In January of this year, the British Retail Consortium said that retailers have a powerful voice across production sectors and a responsibility to bring about better waste reduction. But actually whose responsibility is it to deliver better minimisation strategies?

The waste management sector has responded positively and energetically to calls from retailers to support their work in the supply chain. It has also responded well to calls from government agencies such as WRAP to apply the waste hierarchy and make a difference to total resource consumption, not just waste management.

Traditionally waste management companies only look at the end waste product, and are contracted to collect it and take it way. This is no longer the case. All contractors must now take a holistic view of resource consumption and waste in preparing a waste management contract.

A 360° resource review or time and motion study should now be the first step in every new contract. In a manufacturing or production plant this means looking at every process that takes place. Storing, washing, preparing, trimming, blending, assembling, reducing, heating and cooling, packing, storing and transporting: every action involves the use of water, energy, chemicals and labour, and each stage can involve some wastage along the way.

The business value alone makes this resource review a worthwhile activity because it is estimated that every pound saved in waste prevention in the supply chain is equivalent to profit that would have needed sales of £3 to £4 to generate.

The relationship between retailer and supplier is sometimes perceived as combatitive, just as the relationship between a waste contractor and its client was traditionally seen as a commodity purchase. However these can be genuine partnerships, giving mutual benefit to both parties. Sainsbury’s for example laid out in its 20 by 20 Sustainability Plan that it wanted its suppliers to reduce their green house gas emission by 20% by 2015.

One of Sainsbury’s suppliers is the Adelie Food Group which manufactures 425,000 fresh sandwiches a week, as well as fresh fruit salads and a range of food-to-go products. Under new management, Adelie set a target to achieve zero waste to landfill and invited waste management contractors to help it achieve this goal.

At WasteSolve we undertook a resource audit on behalf of Adelie that garnered support from all the different departments within the company including facilities and transport. This identified a host of ways to reduce resource consumption and waste across Adelie’s seven manufacturing sites and five distribution centres.

We also introduced a staff engagement programme called ‘Ready, Steady, Green’ to explain and encourage employees to introduce new working practices, and it was this intervention which brought about change, and crucially, a new attitude towards waste. When people feel personally involved, and that their individual actions make difference, then things really do change.

By giving feedback on how waste had been diverted from landfill, how much electricity it had helped to generate, right down to how many kettles this had boiled, people could see the immediate, and real impact of their activities. Did it really make a difference? Yes, Adelie produced 3,000 less CO2 emissions in the first year from changes to facilities, transport and waste, and achieved zero landfill in 11 months.

Continuing the theme of partnership and responsibility, Adelie also looked to its own suppliers to make changes. We worked with one of its suppliers, Fresh Olive, by again applying the 360° review. This resulted in new systems being introduced at Fresh Olive and switched the whole business to zero waste to landfill in just two months. During this time, 3.9 tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved.

These are very tangible examples of how the waste management sector is responding to retailer demand for greater environmental performance from its suppliers at every step in the supply chain. If every waste management company can share their knowledge and expertise in making sure any waste in the supply chain goes on to be treated as a precious resource, then between us we really will make a difference.

Kate Cawley is creative director at WasteSolve

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