Isn’t it obvious? A deep dive into Zero Waste Week

‘Zero waste week?’ mocked the man…’ I mean really?!’ Don’t people just love to make something out of nothing …it’s stuff we throw away… we don’t need a whole week to explain that one… isn’t it obvious?

This is a conversation I overheard recently. It was a timely reminder that we still have work to do in the waste industry and that this requires us to tackle perceptions and behaviour, not just systems and processes.

What is circular thinking?

Waste in a linear world is exactly as ‘our good friend’ describes: you’ve used it, you’ve finished with it, you throw it away. It doesn’t take into account whether there is still some use this item can be put to – whether it can feed another need.

In circular thinking, waste as a concept has no place at all. Think of the outdoors. The countryside does not employ a waste management company to come and collect the things it doesn’t need anymore, or things that are broken. Trees and plants grow, leaves fall, plants die, and everything just decomposes back into the soil, to provide nutrients for new growth – a perfect circle.

Most business processes have been created as linear constructs. So, how can we incorporate this circular thinking when dealing with waste? This is where the waste hierarchy comes in. This is a tool you can use immediately to frame your purchasing and help nudge day-to-day decisions towards circularity and minimising waste – even eliminating it.

Level 1 of the waste hierarchy is around prevention and avoidance. But more about that in a moment.

Audit & start planning

To know where you’re going, first, you need to know where you’re at.  Conduct a waste audit to get a handle on items coming into your business, what it’s used for, and what happens to them when they leave your business.

If you’re not sure where to start on that, download the easy-to-follow iiE waste audit guide:

The results of the audit will give you the overview you need to make meaningful interventions on waste that will both help the environment and cut costs from dealing with that waste.

The top action in the waste hierarchy isn’t recycling as many suppose, it’s preventing the waste from happening in the first place. Don’t buy more than you need and could you change what you buy, selecting alternatives that don’t harm the environment? From cleaning products used in the office to materials used on the production line, there is much that can be achieved in reducing your impact and framing purchasing decisions to foster sustainable choices being made. If you are a ‘maker of things’ whatever that thing may be, design it with the end in mind, with easy repair, refurbishment and deconstruction for the component parts to be re-used again and again – feeding another need and nudging your business towards circularity.

For now, there will inevitably be some material that can’t be reused and ends up being disposed of. Just as an old, dried-up leaf falls away from the tree but then provides organic matter for the soil, ensure your waste is fed into a stream that provides a new service such as energy from waste (rather than sent to landfill). You don’t need to figure this out alone, waste contractors are increasingly focused on sustainable solutions and will be able to advise you so talk to them and see what options are available in your area.

If they can’t deal with a particular stream investigate using services such as Terracycle:

Why get involved?

Finally, it’s worth remembering that waste is costly not only to the environment but to you and your business, bringing with it landfill tax, waste transfer fees and collection costs which will only increase as government targets bite. In April this year, landfill tax was raised, now standing at £98.60 per tonne of waste – an increase of 4.7%.

Zero Waste Week is an opportunity to energise and engage your workforce, alerting them to waste in the business and at home. Use it to demonstrate the easy changes they can make to help costs, support the business and protect the environment.

So, the answer to ‘our good friend’s’ question is no, it isn’t that obvious – but it is clearer than it used to be. Every time you see the word waste, swap it with the word resource….that is where we need to frame it to achieve the circular thinking and behaviours we need.

This blog was written by Giustina Diana, Sustainability Advisor at iiE.

All information was accurate at the time of writing.