As the industry looks to align itself with European directives and moves away from a disposal culture, moving waste further up the hierarchy will represent the most important step change – but also the biggest challenge.

Findings from an extensive member survey undertaken by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) revealed that waste prevention and reuse strategies were considered the single biggest influencer in delivering successful resource-led waste management solutions over the next five years.

This was followed by landfill tax and producer responsibility regimes, both of which were ranked above statutory recycling and waste reduction targets, landfill bans, the zero waste agenda and campaigns around behavioural change.

According to the CIWM report, waste producers are increasingly realising the scale of cost savings to be made from greater resource efficiency – a factor which is spurring extended producer responsibility across their value chains.

This is backed up by exclusive research from edie which found that business leaders consider waste reduction to be the second biggest priority in driving better resource efficiency across their organisations.

“Avoiding a tonne of food waste saves a supermarket around £2 per kg, adding £2,000 to their profits for each tonnes of waste avoided – recognising this would likely elicit different behaviours from the current perception that it only cost £100 to dispose of a tonne of food waste,” the CIWM study states.

Within the supply chain for food retailers and manufacturers for example, WRAP estimates that the financial benefit to business of a tonne of food waste prevented is £500 per tonne in manufacture, £1,066 in distribution and £1,676 in retail.

Research has estimated the scale of business savings to be made across the EU through better waste prevention practices could potentially be in the order of £400bn per annum, but tackling behavioural change is critical to achieving this.

CIWM points out that this will be a real challenge as the concepts of prevention and reuse are “less tangible and more difficult to grasp and engage with” compared with recycling or composting activities.

“There is a tendency for the focus of attention to rest on recycling at the expense of other tiers of the waste hierarchy,” the report states.

“We believe that genuine waste prevention will only be achieved if governments in the UK and Ireland engage fully with the design community and major manufacturers, distributors and retailers to make progress on designing waste out of products and packaging.”

Measuring performance in waste prevention is difficult however. Many companies and organisations struggle to quantify the impacts or benefits of it – this often undermines the business case for allocating proper budgets to prevention programmes.

Just last week, the findings of the second phase of the Courtauld Commitment found that retailers and manufacturers still weren’t reaping the full benefits of waste prevention despite making good progress in reducing waste across their supply chains.

CIWM is now calling for consistent metrics to be adopted across both the UK and Ireland to measure the performance and environmental benefits of waste prevention in a meaningful way.

Work is also underway via a Defra-led consortium develop a practical tool to help local authority decision-makers quantify the benefits in terms of tonnage, costs and carbon impacts.

Maxine Perella

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