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Five-point plan towards zero waste

Becoming a zero waste company doesn’t happen overnight, it is a step by step process. DS Smith Recycling national commercial manager Tim Price explains

Some things are not achieved overnight. That’s not to say they are not worth doing, usually the exact opposite. The commitment to achieving zero waste may seem out of reach for many – it’s too hard, there are too many difficult materials to deal with, changing peoples’ behaviour is too complicated. But it is one we all must embrace. For us zero waste is a journey, a set process that can be achieved in small or large steps, but the end result is always the same – strict adherence to the waste hierarchy that keeps resources productive in the economy for longer.

When we work with customers we cover five principles to ensure waste is managed following the waste hierarchy, helping them achieve real zero waste. This is a circular process, one that continues until all resources are used to their optimum level.

The five principles

1. Audit: What’s in the waste stream?

When starting with a new customer we undertake a 360 degree audit to establish what materials are in the waste stream. These will be different according to the type of industry sector they are in but it is important to identify what is unique to each customer and provide appropriate solutions. Some may have common materials, such as paper, cardboard, plastics, metals or glass, while others may have more difficult materials. To achieve true zero waste all materials need to be tackled and we find the majority can be reduced, separated or dealt with in an environmentally and economically sound way. We work with one company that takes expanded polystyrene, often regarded as a difficult material, and compresses it into bricks, while another supplier uses it as stuffing for teddy bears.

Through the audit we can understand where each waste stream appears in their day-to-day operations, where it is being created and where it is thrown away. A site material flow diagram is produced detailing how materials move around the site, from when it comes onto the site, through to when it is thrown away. If you don’t know what’s in the bin how can it be dealt with in the best manner?

2. Segregation: Separate for the highest quality

The audit will identify the best place it can be segregated for recycling. We always work on segregating at source where possible, not waiting until the material has got into the bin, to generate consistently high quality materials. While most people understand that better quality corresponds with a higher value many think it takes more time to segregate. We recognise the pressures our customers are under; they want to get on with their main job and don’t want to create extra work. But the reality is this system doesn’t increase time. The process, by separating materials where they are finished with, saves time and mapping the process throughout the site ensures materials are segregated at the easiest point.

For example, in a supermarket there will be distinct areas for different food stuffs, such as bakery, dried grocery, fruit and vegetables and we keep all these areas separate. And within these areas we go into closer detail – separating bakery waste that contains meat, from the rest of baked goods; identifying where glass arises in the system; ensuring fruit and vegetables don’t get mixed up with card or plastic. Similarly when dealing with mixed and low grade plastics we isolate the areas where the plastics come from and segregate into different polymer types to help increase their overall value. While low grade plastics material is usually a tiny percentage of the overall material collected it has a huge impact if mixed with other plastics. The process not only creates the highest quality resource but gives the customer choice in sending the material to the best available technology, generating the best value and best return for it.

3. Planning:  Achieving best practice

A project plan will be produced to create the best case scenario, making sure best practice fits on a site by site basis. This incorporates not just what happens at the end of the process but looks at how customers can reduce the amount of materials by eliminating unnecessary waste and packaging. Once the materials have been identified, separated and the amount generated we start to move back up the supply chain. By assessing the volumes of waste generated we can identify the need to alter the procurement process, encouraging the customer to change their buying habits. Our strict adherence to the waste hierarchy means we strive to prevent waste happening in the first place.

Buying at the best price has never been more prevalent in the current economic climate but this focus results in purchasing equipment that is not necessarily the best for the job. Containers are bought to ensure no waste will overspill, meaning customers will be paying for empty space. Our message is to buy containers that equate to the real amount of waste capacity required; buying a bin that fits individual needs. This is a lean system and we don’t provide the capacity to throw away material that shouldn’t be there. Following the plan reduces the amount of containers on site and reducing the tonnage that goes to landfill.

4. Education: Keeping the message alive

A clearly communicated plan is essential to make sure all stakeholders have bought into the process and are aware of and prepared for change. The communications plan is a continuous programme of reducing waste and capacity, forcing materials into the correct areas and we often embed a member of staff within the supplier’s team, which brings them expertise and training. Our training programmes are developed to fit in with the customers’ needs, ranging from training a company’s recycling champions through a series of workshops to one-to-one training on site.

A full range of educational resources are provided, from posters that are as visual as possible, road shows outside offices and writing zero waste messages into weekly internal bulletins and quarterly updates. This variety of communications enables effective recycling systems are continually in place to capture quality recycling materials.

With larger customers with multiple sites we create a template to compare different sites and develop a league table. It’s important to talk about what has been achieved and the successes. We’ve found introducing an element of competition is one of the best ways to get staff focused between different sites. No one wants to be bottom of the league table.

5. Measurement: Knowing what you’re dealing with

Establishing clear auditable recycling and recovery routes is essential so customers know where materials end up. Our focus starts by working with local suppliers but with limited infrastructure we accept to use solutions and technologies in the UK, Europe and further afield. A transparent approach is key as organisations can’t afford to be seen doing the wrong thing. Reputation management is an integral part of the zero waste solutions we offer. As part of this, we need to be able to demonstrate correct permits and licensing are in place. Going further we need to make sure all end of process partners can actively demonstrate they undertake all reasonable endeavours to limit, measure and understand the impacts of their operations on the social, environmental and economic communities they engage with.

Utilising best in class end processes requires measuring all factors; transport type, miles travelled, operational efficiency, recycling and energy markets and the like. In recent times many organisations have turned to understanding the carbon impact of each of these processes, which is indeed a valuable index. But we must be sure to develop holistic measurement policies for truly sustainable solutions.

Case study: Dunelm Mill

Dunelm Mill, the UK’s largest homeware and soft furnishing store, has been working with DS Smith Recycling since the beginning of the year. It set an initial target of 70% reduction in waste, in a bid to achieve zero waste to landfill.

The programme of activities prepared by DS Smith Recycling includes bin rationalisation, weight and stream interrogation and waste alignment. With communications key to changing behaviour it has also developed a plan of sharing best practice across all departments, training staff and creating bespoke training materials. In addition to this, DS Smith Recycling’s service includes the opportunity to track carbon benefits.

A full waste review of the Dunelm Mill business has been undertaken to determine the scale of the job, including backhauling all of its packaging back to the distribution centres to understand how the amount of packaging can be reduced. Benchmarks were set from the outset to ensure the improvements are tangible to the business from day one.


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