Reduce, reuse… and repeat!

18 January 2019

Archana Pisharody, Consultant at Resource Futures shares her thoughts on a recent business breakfast in Bristol hosted by the Future Economy Network, where presentations provided a positive outlook on the way forward to many of the unresolved challenges in the waste industry.

The title of the recent business breakfast in Bristol hosted by the Future Economy Network “Getting a LITTER bit tired of poor Resource Management?” may serve as a sign of the mild frustration setting in within our industry as we wade through myriad pathways to arrive at a solution to our resource problems. But that is perhaps what is needed – a multi-pronged approach. The presentations however, provide a more positive outlook on the way forward – and the challenges that remain unresolved.

The event brought together speakers from various parts of the waste industry to showcase how their business model was keeping resources ‘within’ the loop. The overall theme that emerged was around the need to lift the fog over commercial waste and how businesses can deal with their own waste more sustainably.

Paul Roberts, Sustainability Operations Manager at the University of West of England, set the scene from an academic environment perspective; a crucial task in making resource management work will involve embedding its principles in the consciousness of the emerging workforce – the students. The challenges and successes of the university in communicating and enabling behaviour change among the student population, is perhaps a snapshot of the national challenge that lies ahead of us.

For example, the actual financial cost of implementing an improved waste and resource management system can be five to ten times more than the direct costs of activities such as waste removal, when costs of infrastructure, time and so on, are taken into account.

This discussion was taken forward by Resource Futures very own Peter Wills with his insights into the world of commercial waste with all its challenges, opportunities and grey areas. He emphasised the importance of duty of care, better measurement and reporting and the all-important role of communications. His presentation showed waste images of light-weight but alarmingly large piles of problem waste materials such as wet wipes and the solution for this might indeed be the proposed changes from weights to impact based metrics. This and other upcoming policy changes in the recently published Resource and Waste strategy by the Government of England, has pushed forward the case for better understanding and monitoring of waste flows such as these, to help businesses not only ensure compliance but also demonstrate best practice.

Examples from businesses including Collecteco, Vegware and GENeco were good exmples of the growing discussion around the plastic problem and the emerging role of reuse and composting to overcome the hurdles.

Steve Sliney, the Managing Director of Collecteco demonstrated the viability of a business model with reuse at its heart. He calls it a ‘Reuse Provider’ that connects business who need to ‘discard’ everything from furniture and carpets to smaller items, with business who need to ‘purchase’ the same while deftly removing the terms ‘discarding and purchasing’ from the process. The business manages to achieve massive cost savings for smaller organisations like charities, community projects and schools who receive good quality materials, whilst relaying valuable evidence back the larger donating organisations of their value.

Lucy Frankel, the Communications Director of Vegware and Charlotte Stamper, the Renewables and Bioresources Manager at GENeco brought to the fore two ends of the food waste spectrum debate – the incompatibility of compostables with the anaerobic digestion (AD) process on the one hand, and the significance of AD as the more prevalent technology solving the nation’s food waste problem on the other. While Vegware manufactures eco-friendly, compostable, plastic food packaging, GENeco is an anaerobic digestion facility serving Bristol and wider area. However, both do their bit to ensure circularity in their processes. Despite the limitations of only a third of the currently operational anaerobic digestion facilities being able to process their products, Vegware targets the takeaway and catering sector specifically (without encroaching on the packaging arena) with a waste collection service to ensure that the products reach composting facilities that can process these wastes.  The self-powered food waste collection fleet developed by GENeco was another example of innovation enabling better resource management. By purifying the 60% methane-rich biogas output from the digester, GENeco produces a purer Biomethane – a versatile renewable fuel that goes beyond powering their own collection vehicles by supplying enough gas to supply thousands of local homes.

The intent to move away from ‘business as usual’ towards improved and innovative ways of doing business is gaining traction and will be propelled by soon-to-come changes in policies and legislation. There is little doubt that waste will be viewed and valued differently as we move forward. Weights could become numbers; supply chains will need to be re-imagined and targets will need to be more ambitious. But to make that a reality, there will be a greater need to measure, communicate and do things differently.

Read more about the event here.