The rising cost of waste disposal is acting as a powerful disincentive for businesses disposing of waste to landfill. We are seeing waste stream management becoming a top priority as businesses seek to cut costs and develop a sustainable business model for the future. With a direct effect on the bottom line, better waste minimisation and management is a "no brainer" for all businesses regardless of size.
At the same time, businesses are recognising that they can bolster their green credentials through managing their waste more effectively. This is being seen as an important part of corporate social responsibility.
As a result, many businesses are settings themselves challenging targets for waste minimisation and recycling, and devising long term strategies for achieving zero waste to landfill. They are also realising that waste is an issue which needs to be tackled right across their supply chains to ensure better waste management.
Creative waste solutions can not only cut costs but also create additional opportunities. For example, biomass (principally food) waste to energy projects cut waste disposal costs and provide a green solution to a company's waste problem. They are made financially viable by the income generated through the availability of 2 ROC's (Renewables Obligation Certificates which can be sold) per MWh of sustainable biomass CHP, and through sales of surplus electricity to the National Grid. We are seeing a great deal of interest in this, and at the end of last year, the Eversheds' Clean Energy and Sustainability team hosted a seminar which brought together companies and investors to explore the opportunities in this area and discuss the different technologies available, including combustion, anaerobic digestion and gasification/pyrolysis.
Construction waste is currently under the spotlight as businesses look to reduce the volume of construction waste sent to landfill and to increase the amount of recycled materials used. The challenge for many businesses will be to "design out" waste at the earliest possible stage in the project. Legislation is in fact driving change in this area, as this month [6 April 2008] sees the introduction of compulsory site waste management plans ("SWMPs") for construction and fit-out projects exceeding £300,000 in value. A SWMP must be prepared before construction work begins, and be maintained through the lifetime of the project. It must record steps taken during the design and specification stage to reduce waste arising, include estimates of the types and volumes of waste to be produced in the course of the project, confirm the actual types and volumes produced and record how it has been dealt with. This should be a key tool to enable businesses to minimise and manage construction waste more effectively. We are working with a number of clients to review their construction contracts to ensure understanding and accountability at all levels in the light of this new legislation.
Businesses are also increasingly aware of the contribution which they make to other people's waste, and the responsibility which this entails. They are looking to use materials which can be easily recycled and to encourage recycling of their products. This year has seen the largest fine to date for breach of the packaging waste regulations, and there is mounting political pressure for increased regulation of over-packaged goods. At the same time, the Government is threatening legislation in respect of plastic bags, if significant progress is not made as a result of voluntary action by retailers.
No one can have failed to notice the launch by Marks & Spencer last year of its Plan A, an ambitious 100 point plan for tackling climate change of which waste forms one of the five pillars. This very much reflects the changing attitudes of business, and a trend which looks set to continue. Interesting that the old adage "waste not want not" is taking centre stage in today's cost conscious, planet friendly culture.
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