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  • Mauricio Born

Seven Steps to Waste Minimisation. Going Beyond Compliance May Help Businesses to Save Money

Gone are the days portrayed in this Life Magazine cover from 1955. More than sixty years later, a throwaway society seems abominable. It's no different for businesses.

All waste starts its journey as a material purchased, transported, stored, handled, processed, and packed, to serve a customer. As it was not incorporated into the final product or service, it didn't generate revenue.

Some started as imported materials with significant carbon footprints due to their transportation to New Zealand.

Waste costs money to be handled, stored, transported, and disposed, and can create future liabilities, requiring financial resources for cleanup and decontamination if it's hazardous.

In every business, waste generation is inevitable. Aspiring to be a waste-free business or be part of a fully circular economy are valid aspirations but seem idealistic for some companies. A more realistic and cost-effective approach for businesses is to engage in a waste minimisation program.

New Zealand waste data and facts help to seize the opportunity:

  • Three of the top ten concerning issues for New Zealanders are related to waste, according to Colmar Brunton's Better Futures 2021 survey results.

  • The latest waste data published by the Ministry for the Environment for 2018 shows some interesting data:

  • Total waste generated - 17.49 million tonnes/year

  • Total waste sent to landfill - 12.59 million tonnes/year

  • Total waste sent to Class 1 landfills3 - 3.7 million tonnes, an increase of 47% in the last decade.

  • Generated waste per capita – 3.5 tonnes/year

  • Landfilled waste per capita – 0.74 tonnes/year

Municipal waste data published by the OECD shows NZ as the 4th biggest municipal waste generator.

Almost 50% of landfilled waste in New Zealand comes from construction and demolition materials. Estimates are that each new home generates an average of four tonnes of construction waste.

Landfills are expensive to build and manage, and the land cost increasingly worsens this situation. That's one reason why the Government wants plans to increase the waste levy for businesses.

Consider applying these seven steps to a simple but structured approach to go beyond compliance and tackle the business waste minimisation opportunity:

1- Assign waste minimisation responsibilities - Commissioning a Waste Minimisation Team, engaging an external advisor, or a mix, depending on the business size, culture, and organisation. Include people responsible for business processes that mainly contribute to waste generation. Building trust and engagement is crucial, and an ad-hoc team may engage motivated Zero Waste Champions.

2- Quantify and identify - measure weight, volume, and inspect your waste bins for a couple of months.

3- Create a priority list – The Top Five. Eliminating plastic and reusing coffee cups are good initiatives, but they may be a small percentage of your total waste.

4- Apply the waste management hierarch to each priority waste, particularly the first three steps: reduce, reuse and recycle, to devise feasible solutions.

5- Start implementing actions – The earlier in the value chain, the better. Consider:

o Segregating different types of waste adds value enabling further actions

o Eliminating or simplifying package design and material intensity

o Returning packages to suppliers

o Identifying market best practices

o Enhancing or starting a recycling program

o Identifying charities that could benefit from some valuable waste materials

o Improving and innovating processes, equipment, and materials

o Apply for the Waste Minimisation Fund to support projects

o Emphasising buying local goods. The farther it travels, the more packaging is needed.

o Banning non-recyclable materials

o Implementing measures to reduce office waste

6- Track the progress and analyse results, establishing targets. Carefully pick the KPIs.

o Waste generated/month and breakdown by materials

o Waste generated/unit of product or $ of revenue.

o Waste handling and disposal cost/ month

7- Communicate the progress and celebrate the wins, expanding to more types of wastes.

What's the value of this opportunity for your business?

What's hindering your business from launching a waste minimisation program?

Mauricio Born

Sustainability and Health & Safety Advisor


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