There are many ways of going green. At some point we hope to replace the traditional linear – and wasteful – production model with a circular economy, which keeps materials in a cycle of use and reuse. At some point we hope to eliminate emissions and have a pollution free transport and distribution network. At some point…
Some point is an aspiration. But at this point we need to make a start. You don’t just leap to the end result with no intermediate steps. Where do we start? If we set our initial targets too high we will fall short and give up the good fight. A sensible approach is to tackle what we can change now. When we succeed at that, we can set more ambitious targets. Step by step we move towards our ultimate target of a fully sustainable economy.
Waste management is the low-hanging fruit of this journey. We can all – whether domestic or commercial – manage our waste effectively. Domestically we can sort our rubbish into recyclables, compostables, and the rest. We can compost at home and grow some of our food. We can reuse, or pass on, things that might be old but still have life in them. Commercially there are also waste management solutions we can turn to. In this article we will be focusing on those.
What are some solutions to waste management?
Sustainable waste management aims to keep materials in use for as long as possible, and to minimize the amount of solid waste that is disposed of in landfill, or incinerated. But this is not always easy, and has not always been the favoured solution to waste management.
For many years the solution was to dump – solid waste was put into landfills, liquid waste went into our rivers and eventually made its way down to the sea, and gaseous waste went up the chimney and into the air. The mantra was: “The solution to pollution is dilution.” The sea, or the air, can take it.
Even when we knew this was not true, we continued with this policy. When the ESB constructed the coal-burning Moneypoint power station in County Clare in the eighties, the towers were built high enough so that the smoke did not settle on the local population, but dispersed in the upper atmosphere. The feeling was that if it blew over the Irish Sea, it became another jurisdiction’s problem.
Landfill is still used, but to a lesser and lesser extent. A case in point is the Kinsale Road Landfill site, which was the main dump for Cork city since the sixties. Over the 35 years of it’s operation more than three million tonnes of domestic and commercial waste were simply buried on the site. But it closed in 2009. The landfill was transformed into Tramore Valley Park, a wonderful sports and recreational facility.
Landfill can be recovered, but it is not easy. The Environmental Protection Agency constantly monitors Tramore Valley Park, and the landfill is lined with a plastic layer, and has a network of pipes in place to collect gas and contaminated water. Landfill remediation works on the site have cost over 40 million euro to date.
It is not all bad news – the gas still being produced by the rotting waste under the park is now used for power, providing enough electricity to provide 2% of the city’s needs.
In the last decade we have come to realize we need more imaginative solutions to waste management than landfill. Now waste facilities divide the waste into categories, and much of it is recycled. Glass goes back into new glass, plastic bottles can be turned into textiles, food waste can produce compost.
Sewage can be treated until it becomes drinkable water again.
Which waste management practice is the most sustainable?
Many strategies will make waste management more sustainable. Source reduction is one approach. Source reduction – or waste prevention – means reducing waste at source. This can be through reusing or donating items, buying in bulk, reducing packaging, and similar approaches to reduce the amount of waste being produced. Obviously if you produce less waste, you have less to dispose of.
Recycling is the next most useful approach. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Can your waste become the raw material for another commercial enterprise? Recycling and reusing are very sustainable approaches to waste management.
Why do we need sustainable waste management?
Sustainable waste management is crucial for a number of reasons. We could devote a full blog to this, but here are some reasons. Sustainable waste management produces a flourishing natural environment, which we all benefit from. It contributes to human and animal health, and fosters biodiversity. It frees up valuable land from landfills. It can improve energy production, reduce energy usage, and create jobs. With less waste we can reduce the cost of transport and logistics.
On a very practical level, effective waste management can reduce the costs of your business, and increase your profits. All that, while doing good for the environment. That’s a winner.
The solution to poor waste management
Poor waste management is poor management. The solution is better management.
It starts with a waste audit. You need to analyze how your company is doing. You can’t plot where you are going unless you know where you are. You can check our earlier blogs for advice on planning and implementing a waste management audit.
Once you have done your audit, you now need to plan where you go from there. Set targets. But you will need to monitor your performance to see how close you come to those targets. At CEC we would be delighted to help you with this. We have software solutions to allow you keep track of all your waste. This has a twofold advantage; it lets you know how you are doing, and it provides data if you are going for tangible targets such as zero waste to landfill certification.
We have helped many companies learn to manage their waste management. We would be delighted to help you do the same if you contact us. When you take control you will be able to produce the improvements that will build your reputation and pad your bottom line.