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Watching your waste lines

17 February 2012

Following recent changes to waste regulations and the promise of even tighter controls to come in 2015, facilities managers need to make sure that their systems and procedures are up to scratch. Peter Vernon explains more about what the future of waste management will look like, and the implications for facilities managers.

Waste management has never been higher on the public agenda. Politicians from all spectrums – at global, national and local levels – argue about it. In the current harsh economic climate the concept of re-using and recycling, or make do and mend, has never been more relevant. Facilities managers can deliver significant cost savings to the organisation by reviewing waste management policies and procedures. Add to this the obvious environmental concerns, and it is an issue that you simply can’t ignore.

But just because it is a fashionable topic, don’t be fooled into thinking that it is something for companies to aspire to; an aspect of corporate social responsibility that it would be nice to have, but not essential. Recent amendments to waste regulations and a promise of even tighter controls to come in 2015 mean that facilities managers have specific rules to which they must adhere.

New amendments to the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations came into force at the end of September 2011, adding extra facets to the original ‘waste hierarchy’.

Key features of the new regulations
The September amendments introduced some extra steps in the waste hierarchy chain. The hierarchy sets out, in order of priority, the options for managing waste that should be considered prior to disposal. In order of priority, these are:

  • Prevention
  • Preparing for re-use
  • Recycling
  • Other recovery (such as energy recovery)
  • Disposal

Targets for re-using and recycling have also been set. By 2020 EU Member states will be required to re-use or recycle 70% of construction and demolition waste. As well as being obliged to help the Government achieve these targets, organisations are also encouraged to contribute to the creation of a more sustainable environment by implementing the amended regulations. The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is working with specific industry sectors such as hospitality, direct mail and retail to work with them to reduce waste voluntarily.

What does this mean for facilities managers?
The regulations raise some key issues for organisations that will need to be addressed by facilities managers. Waste producers, holders and carriers now need to apply the ‘new’ waste hierarchy and declare that it has been taken into account on their waste transfer notes. When waste is passed on, the waste producer will need to declare that they have applied the waste management hierarchy.

Companies will also be asked to keep records of all this activity for inspection by the Environment Agency. If a business’s waste management decisions fail to comply with the waste hierarchy, they will be asked to justify them or face possible prosecution. Guidance offered by Defra explains that there is a legal duty on businesses that produce or handle waste to ‘take all such measures as are reasonable in the circumstances to apply the waste hierarchy to prevent waste and to apply the hierarchy as a priority order when you transfer waste to another person’.

As the costs of sending waste to landfill constantly increase, the figures show recycling improvements have been made in the UK, with businesses recycling or reusing over 50% of commercial and industrial waste. Whilst we are heading in the right direction, we still have a way to go to catch up with our European neighbours.

Perhaps one key thing that has reduced the level of general waste is the proper sorting of material. Authorities across Europe encourage more sorting at source, making it easier to separate out recyclable materials from general waste. Reducing sorting after collection is more efficient and helps save money down the line.

Under the Waste Regulations, from January 1st 2015, waste collectors must take practical measures to ensure separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass prior to it leaving site and waste producers should consider measures they might need to take to ensure their waste can be collected separately, such as the installation of the right recycling products.

Making the new hierarchy work
The amendments to the regulations mean that all businesses that produce waste need to implement new systems to ensure that any waste they produce is stored, transported and disposed of without harming the environment as part of their duty of care.

Knowing what type of waste you produce, including the quantities, is of paramount importance, together with the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) Codes, where it is transported to and what happens to it. Systems to measure your waste output on a continuous basis will also need to be implemented.

Segregating your waste at source will make it easier to recover value through the disposal chain. Auditing of your whole business and processes to identify all waste streams can help show where cost savings can be made and how waste can be turned into revenue. Likewise, consideration should be given to your current waste practices. Could some of your waste that currently gets sent to landfill actually be recovered and/or recycled? If the answer is ‘possibly’ then the regulations place a responsibility on organisations to do just that.

A range of environmentally friendly solutions are available from waste containers and eco paper sacks to recycling of lighting and office equipment and document destruction products, combined with a range of support services. 

Next steps
There’s no doubt that the amendments to the regulations place a greater onus on organisations, and their facilities managers, to understand how they manage their waste and to ensure, as part of their duty of care, that it is disposed of correctly.

I have long been an advocate of greater segregation of waste at source and the standardisation of waste, so I welcome these amendments and feel confident that it will enable the recycling and reprocessing industry to develop even further. According to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), the sector quadrupled in size between 2000 and 2008, demonstrating its importance to future business.

The crucial part facilities managers can play in protecting the environment by finding ever more innovative and effective ways of re-using and recycling waste will prove invaluable in shaping the future – for business, for the environment, for economic well-being, for us all.

In summary, with investment in the right services and products at all levels in the chain – from manufacture, distribution, recovery and recycling – a larger reduction will be made in the amount of waste sent to landfill every year, costs will be reduced, waste turned into revenue and environmental damage lessened. Make sure that staff are aware of your waste management processes and provide appropriate training.

Peter Vernon is managing director of Alpha Waste Solutions

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