5 steps to improve your waste and resources strategy

In August 2017, the Chinese Government announced a ban on the import of 24 types of materials (including plastic and mixed paper), following intense campaigns within the country against “foreign waste”. In April of this year, China issued a list of an additional 16 materials to be banned by the end of 2018, and another 16 by the end of 2019.

For the UK, the Chinese ban is particularly pertinent. Given that Britain does not have the infrastructure to recycle and process all of its waste, particularly plastic, it has continued dispatching it abroad after the implementation of the ban. Millions of tons of waste have been sent to other countries, particularly Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam – which are in the top ten for the quantity of plastics entering the ocean – and Turkey. Not only is there concern about where this waste actually ends up, but these countries are now looking to implement bans themselves, with severe implications for Britain.

Later this year, the UK Government is expected to publish its new Waste and Resources Strategy, which will address the Chinese ban and suggest how Britain will meet the ambitious targets set in its 25 Year Environment Plan: zero avoidable waste by 2050 and eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the year 2042. The UK has also adopted the EU Circular Economy Package, with a target of recycling 65% of municipal waste, recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030 and reducing landfill to a maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030.

In this complicated scenario, businesses will need to be prepared to face much more challenging regulations and expectations, and develop comprehensive waste and resources strategies in response that lead to significantly different ways of working.

Having supported many businesses in the development and implementation of such strategies, here are our 5 key principles, to ensure the success of your strategy:

  1. If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it

You will need to fully understand your current waste footprint: what materials your business is using, how much waste you are producing and where waste ends up. Having data available will allow you to gain management buy-in and to make informed decisions about your future waste management approach.

  1. Collaborate with your suppliers

Businesses have a Duty of Care for the waste they produce and must take reasonable steps to ensure that waste is managed properly. A breach of Duty of Care can lead to unlimited fines and significant reputational damage.

Collaborate with your suppliers to understand how waste is generated and disposed of and to identify opportunities for; using alternative materials, reducing material usage at the source, simplifying the materials used; reusing materials where possible. These actions will increase the circularity of your waste management streams.

  1. Engage with key external stakeholders

Waste and plastic usage is now a high profile and emotive issue. Be prepared to initiate conversations with key external stakeholders, particularly customers, around waste and what your business could do to meet their expectations. For companies producing products, it is essential to understand where packaging ends up.

Focus groups, interviews, feedback cards, surveys and social media are all excellent catalysts for innovative ideas and opportunities to integrate their considerations into your approach and demonstrate your commitment to the issue.

  1. Enthuse your employees

Working together for a common goal is a key pillar of any business strategy. Thus, involving your employees when developing and implementing your strategy is going to be a critical success factor. Depending on the nature of the business, you will be heavily reliant on certain functions such as procurement, R&D and marketing to deliver anything meaningful.

More broadly, aim to recruit enthusiastic individuals through employee engagement programs and enable them to support your staff to reduce, reuse and recycle effectively and implement key waste management initiatives for the delivery of your strategy.

  1. Avoid knee-jerk reactions

Avoid choosing what seems like an easy option without carefully evaluating the trade-offs involved in different initiatives. For instance, it may seem like an easy win to replace plastic with compostable items, but in the absence of facilities to deal with compostable waste, these items are likely to be treated as general waste and to end up in landfill, potentially offsetting the financial and environmental benefits of your initiative.

Evaluate all of your options carefully, instead of taking the easy way out.

The Chinese ban and the UK’s response will doubtless raise challenges but will also open up new opportunities for businesses. A well-designed and comprehensive waste and resources strategy will support a business to prevent waste from being generated as well as supporting it to measure, control and report on its footprint. Not only is this the right thing to do but it’s good for business – Defra, for example, found that easy-wins alone could save businesses £3bn per year – and will ultimately ensure your company is responding to stakeholder and UK Government priorities amid rapidly changing expectations.

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