Waste Minimisation

Waste minimisation, prevention or avoidance is the most important management technique to be applied to solid wastes, because waste which is avoided needs no management and has no environmental impact.

8 European Commission, Waste management options and climate change, ISBN 92 894 1733 1, 2001.

9 RRF, Recycling achievement in Europe, Resource Recovery Forum, 1st Floor, The British School, Otley Street, Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 1EP, UK, 2001.

General recommendations, while helpful in theory, often contribute little in any individual case, over and above giving pointers as to possible waste reduction routes. In order to successfully reduce waste volumes, it is first necessary to establish the composition of that waste, and the reasons which prompted its creation. In a domestic situation, those reasons may include or be dictated by life style, for example if both parents in a household are working full time, necessitating the purchase of more convenience foods, or if there is a young baby in the family using disposable nappies. The growing tendency in some countries for smaller households increases the likely quantities of wastes created. For example one study10 showed that single-person homes can create around 120 kg food waste each year. By contrast each person in a two-person household creates only 85 kg food waste pa. In a three-person, home this figure falls to 50 kg per person per year. In a commercial situation, some waste may be the result of delivery policies set by a central supply system, or stem from choices made years before on types of machinery, requiring considerable investment in new equipment to change.

Definition. While some consider the diversion of waste materials into recycling to be waste minimisation, as this reduces the amount of waste going for final disposal, the original intent of the term was to reduce to a minimum the amount of waste being generated. The OECD11 has developed a broad definition of waste minimisation, encompassing the following three elements, in this order of priority:

• preventing and/or reducing the generation of waste at source

• improving the quality of the waste generated (e.g. reducing the hazard)

• encouraging re-use, recycling and recovery

Home composting schemes, where householders themselves turn kitchen and garden wastes into compost, can be considered waste minimisation, but all other procedures which require handling of wastes such as collection for recycling, while reducing pressure on disposal facilities, are not actually reducing the amount of waste generated. That reduction could be achieved through changed manufacturing procedures, or even a change in the type or combination of materials used, enabling production scrap to immediately be returned to the beginning of the manufacturing line, so that it never reaches the stage of being considered a waste.

Resource optimisation. It is easy to think narrowly of waste as a solid product left over at the end of a process or action, but it would be wrong to concentrate on reducing the amount of solid waste produced, to the exclusion of considerations about, among other things, wastage of energy or water. It is as wasteful to use several gallons of water unnecessarily, or to drive cars when one could walk or cycle, or to consume energy thoughtlessly, as it is to discard newspapers, cans or empty wrappings.

10 Incpen, Towards greener households: products, packaging & energy, Incpen, Tenterden House, 3

Tenterden Street, London W1R 9AH, UK, ISBN 1 901 576 50 7, 2001.

11 OECD, Pollution prevention & control: considerations for evaluating waste minimisation in OECD

member countries (Report ENV/EPOC/PPC(978)17/REV2), OECD, Paris, 1998.

For example, it can be wasteful (and environmentally counter-productive) to drive several miles to deposit a few newspapers, empty cans, glass or plastic bottles into collection banks. The resources consumed in doing so, together with the further resources needed to take the materials for reprocessing, could exceed the resources saved by them not being thrown away.

There can be a conflict between minimising the resources used to make a product and the possibility of re-using, or recycling, the product. For example, in order to make a refillable glass bottle strong enough to withstand several trips between consumer and bottling plant, the bottle must be made stronger, which uses more glass. The heavier the container, the more transport needed to carry it, and its contents, to their destination. Transport has a large environmental impact. Therefore there needs to be careful evaluation of the number of return trips each bottle makes set against the increased resource use for making it refillable. If the refillable bottle is thrown away and not returned, or only refilled once or twice, the resources wasted are greater than if the bottle had been designed for a single use. Recycling is aided by the use of fewer different materials in a single product: for example, the recent switch by car manufacturers to use only three or four types of plastic, instead of more than twenty formerly, has simplified the recovery of plastics from scrap cars. Sometimes a combination of paper and plastic, or plastic coating on glass, enables a product to fulfil its role with the minimum resources, but, because of the mixed materials, it is harder to recycle than, say, an all paper item.

It is wasteful to allow food, which has consumed resources and energy in its production, to be damaged or spoiled. Extreme measures designed to reduce packaging may have the effect of reducing the use of paper, metals, glass and plastics at the expense of the food they would have protected, despite the value of the wasted food being many times greater than the value of the now-avoided packaging. Surveys show that householders in industrialised countries waste significant amounts of food, simply through buying too much. It is wasteful to demand new clothes and new furnishings simply to follow fashion trends when the current articles still have useful life left in them.

Waste minimisation at home. Waste minimisation is hard to achieve for individuals and households, but there are some contributions which can be made. For example, care should be taken when purchasing goods that appropriate amounts and sizes are chosen. Buying large tins of paint to do a small decorating job, or buying larger amounts of food than can be consumed while fresh, are two examples of unnecessary waste creation.

Since waste is not simply the refuse put out for collection each week, considerable waste reduction in terms of resource use can be made by using electricity sparingly, by cutting down the number of car journeys made, and so on. Individuals can reduce the amount of waste they create by buying less, by buying longer-life products, and by re-using items: empty tins and jars make good storage, yoghurt pots are ideal for seedlings, magazines once read can be passed to neighbours and friends. Mending broken or worn items of clothing or equipment has a further important contribution to make.

Waste minimisation in industry. The trend to conduct environmental audits of companies, products and processes is likely to provide pointers to minimisation policies, and will help determine where environmental burdens are imposed. In a trial in Kent, UK, eleven companies were helped to identify a range of waste reduction initiatives. In the initial phase of the study the companies saved money (more than £2 million pa), identified the means to reduce waste arisings sent to landfill (116000 tonnes pa), found opportunities to reduce water demand (940000 m3 pa) and ear-marked energy savings equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 1700 tonnes pa).

Another project involved 24 companies in South Yorkshire, UK. These companies identified savings of:

• >£1 million pa; 5100 m3 of solid waste to landfill

• 4500 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In Austria, the government of Styria12 set out a programme during the 1990s to demonstrate the scope for waste prevention through cleaner production techniques. More than 200 options were identified, with potential savings of ATS20 million pa. The distribution of these opportunities was as follows:

Waste exchanges, where the waste product of one process becomes the raw material for a second process, are another way of reducing waste disposal volumes for those wastes which cannot be eliminated.

Long life products. Product durability is a way of reducing waste and, in the majority of examples, extending, say, a vacuum cleaner's useful life to fifteen years instead of twelve, can make a major contribution to resource optimisation.

There are, however, some instances where extending the life of an item could actually be a negative approach, in total environmental terms. If your old washing machine uses double the amount of water, detergent and energy as the newer model, and you use it very frequently, extending its useful life may, overall, place a heavier burden on the environment than sending the old one to be scrapped, its metal recycled, and purchasing a new model. Motor cars are another example: generally, old vehicles consume more fuel and produce more emissions than their modern counterparts.

Product design. Waste minimisation strategies should start at the beginning of a product's life cycle - with product design stage. In addition, reducing the number

12 Warmer Bulletin, Waste minimisation, Warmer Bulletin Information Sheet, September, 2000.

of different components used in a product, or making it easier to take apart, can make the task of recycling it at the end of its useful life simpler, as well as making its repair possible. There may need to be a choice made as to whether reducing the amount of raw materials to make the goods is of paramount importance. It could be that reducing the volume or toxicity of waste created when the goods have reached the end of their life, or even making the products environmentally less harmful while in use, have higher priority.

Hiring, sharing and borrowing. There are considerable opportunities for waste reduction in hiring or borrowing equipment which is not often required. Examples of this include garden tools like shredders and hedge cutters, and decorating equipment. Special occasion clothing can also be hired. Shared or communal use of equipment is another waste saving measure. For example a small community or neighbourhood group could jointly purchase a commercial sized washing machine and run their own laundry service, saving on energy and water as well as on the number of pieces of equipment needed. This could be particularly relevant in a community with a large number of babies and young children using nappies.

Waste minimisation instruments. A number of policy instruments can be regarded as addressing waste minimisation. These include plans and programmes, mandatory instruments (technical standards and product bans), economic instruments (taxes and duties, financial aid and economic incentives) and suasive instruments (information provision and public relations, environmental management systems, environmental reporting and eco-labelling).

A study by the Institute for Applied Ecology in Darmstadt, Germany13 concluded that product-oriented environmental policies will be the most effective means of delivering waste minimisation in the longer term. National environmental and waste policies are also changing to reflect these new priorities. For example, the government of Victoria, Australia introduced a ten year strategy Zeroing in on wastes in 1998 with a specific objective to achieve 'the widespread avoidance of waste by facilitating the adoption of cleaner production policies and practices'. In 1999 this was followed by a target to reduce waste to landfill by 10% by 2010.

By being aware of the impacts of purchasing decisions, both industry and individuals can make a difference to total resource consumption.

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