Can Britain ever achieve a zero waste to landfill figure

New guidelines in 2011 were introduced that stipulate all businesses and organisations now have to apply waste hierarchy systems when dealing and disposing of waste. These rules suggest that all organisations who deal with waste should dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.

What is clear is that older forms of disposing of waste, such as the ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model, are now beginning to reach physical limitations.

Fortunately, action is now being taken to combat this problematic issue. By 2020, as part of their Zero Waste Regulations policy, Scotland has placed a landfill ban on municipal biodegradable waste; in the UK, this is the first ban of its kind, which could see England and Northern Ireland following suit shortly afterwards.

However, despite the UK’s best efforts, food waste rose by 4.4% between 2012 and 2015, even though plans suggested that food waste should be cut by 5% before 2016. Now, the question still remains, how can the UK achieve a 0% rate of waste going to landfill? Reconomy, 8 yard skip providers and commercial waste services, explore whether this proposal can ever be achieved.

What constitutes a zero waste to landfill figure?

What this means is that none of the waste that is generated by a business or organisation goes to a landfill site. Instead, these materials may be recycled in different ways, reused or can be reproduced and turned into energy. If recycling is the method used, the materials involved are as follows:

  • Cardboard. This is recycled in a paper mill.
  • Glass. This is melted down and then created into new glass products and containers.
  • Plastic. This is recycled and made into new packaging.
  • Food. This waste is sent to be used as compost.
  • Organic material. This can be broken down through a process known as anaerobic digestion. This is the breakdown of organic material by micro-organisms when oxygen isn’t present. Such a method sees the methane-rich gas biogas being produced, which can then be used as a fuel and a digestate — a source of nutrients that is able to be used as a fertiliser.

Apart from recycling waste, processes such as incineration and gasification are also being used to help recover energy from waste that cannot be recycled.

To guarantee that all materials have went to the correct recycling facility – audit trails need to be facilitated by businesses. If they can’t be tracked, then the zero waste to landfill label cannot be attributed to that organisation’s waste, which is why tracking is so important within this process.

Time consuming to monitor, and difficult to implement, tracking systems can often be a chore for businesses on tight budgets. This then, casts doubt on whether organisations throughout the UK, and the world, can direct all their waste streams to recyclable solutions.

Is zero waste to landfill a realistic target?

As opposed to a reality, achieving a zero waste to landfill target is a philosophy for large-scale organisations to work towards.

In the future, for businesses to achieve this goal as a longer-term ambition, materials, business models, regulations and public infrastructures need to be reconsidered for this idea to be workable. This is, however, a two-way solution – as businesses need to eliminate their waste that comes from suppliers – whilst making sure that waste isn’t produced during manufacturing and when products and services are passed onto customers and clients.

What also needs to be considered is that even during the process of energy recovery, waste in the form of ash is created during incineration. Clearly, more needs to be done to innovate these processes for the future so that zero waste to landfill rates can be achieved in this lifetime.

Circular economies could be set to help

To help ease the strain on the ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model is the circular economy model.

Keeping components, materials and products at the highest possible value and utility around the clock – a positive development cycle is created, which is restorative and regenerative in its design. As a result, natural capital can be enhanced and preserved, resource yields optimised and system risks kept to a minimum through the management of finite stocks and renewable flows.

In comparison to systems that are created purely for the sake of efficiency, energy can now be created from more renewable sources. However, in the goal to achieving zero waste to landfill figures, a circular economy will mean that waste will not exist when a product’s biological and technical components are designed with the intention of always fitting within a biological and technical materials cycle.

A circular economy and its principles are now being evidenced across the globe. In the Netherlands, for example, around 16% of the new stream of products being introduced to the metal and electrical sectors were items that had either being repaired or reused. Further afield, China has been running mandatory energy saving and pollution reduction programmes nationwide since 2006. These are in place to address issues with what researchers in the country have referred to as ‘low resource efficiency’ and ‘high pollution levels’.


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