Waste is one of the fundamentals of sustainability and there has been a lot of activity focusing on waste reduction and waste management. Government funding schemes have resulted in innovations in recycling, reuse and remanufacture of post consumer waste products.
There are new regulations and codes of practice coming into play. The Product Stewardship Bill 2011 encourages businesses to maintain responsibility for the environmental impacts of its products across the life cycle. Its first program is the national television and computer recycling scheme where manufacturers will take back their products for reuse or remanufacture.
The Australian Packaging Covenant provides a voluntary framework and guidelines for sustainable packaging design.
There are direct links between waste and environmental sustainability.
Waste to landfill goes against sustainable principles such as ‘re-use, recover, recycle, remanufacture’. It means that new products are being processed from scratch and typically results in high demand on fuel, energy, materials and other resources. As the waste breaks down it also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide.
There are direct environmental risks from hazardous waste that might contaminate the soil or water supply and direct emissions of gases or particulates to the air. There can also be business risks and costs associated with these incidents.
All waste and inefficiency will have a cost component. Waste removal and trade waste can be significant expenses for a business. Scrap and other material that is not used efficiently are also unnecessary costs. Time and equipment used in fixing mistakes is not productive. Unnecessary storage and transport can be a direct cost and can contribute to energy and fuel costs. Purchasing items that are not used or producing items that are not sold can also be costly forms of waste.
If your business generates waste to the sewerage system you are probably paying trade waste fees; and you might have to treat the waste first to comply with the trade waste license. You might decide to target this area to reduce costs and reduce environmental risk. You could look at ways to reduce the amount of waste disposed to sewer. You might research how to change the content of the waste by using different materials of different processes.
Seven deadly wastes
Muda refers to any activity that does not contribute to benefit as perceived by the customer; that is, what the customer will pay for. The concept underpins Lean systems. Lean aims to eliminate all forms of waste and therefore to improve efficiency.
There are usually seven types of waste identified and these are known as the seven deadly wastes:
- Transportation – moving things between processes, from one work station to another
- Inventory – excess stock of raw materials, parts, finished product
- Motion – excess human movement such as reaching for tools, bending, walking, lifting
- Waiting (delay) – idle time when material, information or equipment is not ready, waiting for parts or repairs, searching for things
- Over-processing – producing to a higher standard, adding steps that don’t create value, adding features that the customer does not want
- Over-production – producing more (quantity) than is required to meet customer demand
- Defects – producing faulty or inadequate product that does not meet customer requirements
An eighth waste is sometimes included. This refers to undervalued or underused human potential.
All of these have costs attached so reducing the waste will reduce costs. Reducing the waste will also contribute to improved sustainability, for example:
- Environmental – reduced energy, fuel, water and material use, less waste and emissions leading to better carbon footprint, reduced risk of environmental incidents
- Economic – reduced cost of materials, resources and waste management and improved productivity
- Social – better use of human resource potential and increased respect and recognition in the workplace leading to improved staff engagement, innovation and productivity.
Reduce, reuse, recover, recycle, remanufacture
Your waste management focus will depend on what sort of processes and materials your business uses. It is likely that you can improve your waste management using one or more of the “R” activities. (Also see Product improvement and life cycle.)
- Reduce – this focuses on improving efficiency, establishing technology and practices that reduce the amount of waste generated
- Reuse – using a product without change or remodeling, whether for the original or a different application
- Recover – capturing or extracting elements of a product or process, for example, chemicals from computer parts or heat from a production process
- Recycle – processing a product or components into a changed form, usually for a different application
- Remanufacture – rebuilding a product to its original (or better) specifications; this goes beyond reconditioning or repairing to an acceptable working state.
Carbon sequestration refers to the capture and long term storage of carbon dioxide to remove it from the atmosphere. Capture can occur at the point of emission, say at a power plant, or through natural process such as photosynthesis.
Sequestration methods include:
- Enhancing the storage in the soil (soil sequestration)
- Enhancing the storage of carbon in the forests and other vegetation (plant sequestration or biosequestration)
- Storing carbon in underground geological formations (geosequestration)
- Storing carbon in the ocean (ocean sequestration).
- Subjecting carbon to chemical reactions to form inorganic carbonates (mineral sequestration).
Indirect sequestration refers to a process that offsets emissions, for example, by planting of trees or other carbon sinks.
Some sectors have been sequestering for decades as they have needed to remove CO2 from their product stream. In other sectors it is new and experimental. There may be commercial opportunities in developing new techniques that can be used by a range of industries.
Managing your performance
Things to think about in planning your waste management include:
- Strategic investment in developing options such as recycling, remanufacturing, product stewardship
- Applying a systematic approach to identifying waste and improving efficiency eg Lean and the Competitive Systems and Practices and Sustainable Operations qualifications
- Developing continuous improvement strategies that focus on minimising all aspects of waste (muda)
- Making changes in the workplace to reduce waste and to embed the changes
- Investing in new processes or upgrading technology to reduce waste amount, improve trade waste properties, install capture and recycling systems
- Implementing policies and procedures for safe disposal of waste.