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One of the statements that we often hear people make is ‘I don’t create any waste’, and as much as it would great if this were true, it obviously isn’t otherwise we wouldn’t be in the situation that we find ourselves in today.  This statement is the result of people not understanding what waste really is and mistakenly thinking that generating waste is part of everyday life and something that is beyond our control. 

We all create waste (some more than others) but what we don’t always realise is the cumulative impact of our waste altogether.  If one person thinks as they put in the bin, ‘it’s only a half a loaf of bread’ here and ‘it’s only one glass bottle’ there then by the time everyone in Scotland thinks like that you are already talking about approximately 5 million half loaves of bread and 5 million glass bottles!

There are always steps we can take reduce this waste and ideally eliminate it all together.  Whether this is by reducing food waste, reducing the amount of packaging you purchase, reducing the amount of unwanted mail you receive through your door and by making sure that if the materials you do use can’t be reused, you recycle them at every opportunity. 

The power of campaigning is to bring individuals together to think as one and to take action.  A couple of excellent recent examples are Plastiki, the boat made from 12,500 plastic bottles, which completed its 8,000 mile journey by arriving in Sydney last week.  The purpose was to highlight the amount of plastic waste in the oceans; one area called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is thought to be about twice the size of Texas, while plastic waste is also estimated to kill 1.5 million marine animals each year.  At the other end of the scale pupils from a primary school in London built a 7ft paper tree using junk mail to highlight all the unwanted mail their families receive in the post.  As over a third of all direct mail is discarded unopened (Direct Mail Information Service 2006), we shouldn’t just accept this is the way it is but do something about it.  As you can see by joining together and looking at the bigger picture you get a greater sense of how one person, one family or one business can play their part.

Join forces and make yourself heard

If you’re having trouble convincing the decision makers in your workplace that you should be recycling, why noy try a bit of campaigning of your own?  You could ask colleagues to save up over the course of a week all of the materials they use which could be recycled so you have a visible picture of all the resources that are being wasted.

Whatever it is you decide to do, don’t be fooled into thinking that one person or one small business won’t make an impact or make a difference, as it most certainly will.

People are genuinely surprised when they realise that the UK lags behind the rest of Europe in how it deals with it’s waste, and now it seems that we can no longer hide the fact as we actually landfill two million tonnes more waste than any other EU country.

Because of this the Local Government Association (LGA) warns that UK landfill sites will be full in just 8 years unless major changes in recycling rates occur.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like the idea of living in a country that has been labelled a ‘dustbin’, so with this in mind it seems that the aims of the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan can’t come soon enough.  I also don’t need to stress the significance of just how important the decision to include construction, commercial and industry waste is into the waste targets that have been set, as they are by far the biggest producers of waste in the UK.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, and even though we’ve still got a long way to go, it’s encouraging that lots of businesses in Scotland are trying to do their bit, with a few already well on their way to meeting their own zero waste targets, (you can read about some case studies on our Waste Aware Business website). But on this recent estimate we can only succeed if all businesses play their part.

It seems that many of us are, as each year British businesses landfill 165,000 tonnes of office furniture, of which at least 50% could be reused.

We all fancy a change every now and then, and as the product lifespan of furniture is estimated to be 9 to 12 years it can be quite a long wait to only replace it once it is absolutely no longer useable, but there are other options available instead of needlessly wasting thousands of tonnes of metal, wood, plastics and textiles.    

Here at Keep Scotland Beautiful, we moved offices 15 months ago and furnished our new offices nearly entirely with reused furniture.  This was approximately 80 desks and chairs, 40 desk pedestals, 20 cupboards, and an assortment of other cabinets and storage units.  Not only that, they took away our unwanted furniture to either be reused or remanufactured where possible, giving that a new lease of life as well.  Obviously using reused furniture saves you money, saves raw materials and energy, reduces waste to landfill and you still get ‘new’ furniture……well new to you anyway.

The Centre for Reuse and Remanufacture (CRR) have been working on an office furniture reuse study over the past year and one of the many elements they have looked into is the carbon impact of reusing furniture.  Even with remanufacturing a chair by having to replace the foam seat and arm rests reduces the carbon impact of the chair by 45%, a really significant saving.

Most office furniture manufacturers don’t offer a take back service and so reuse and remanufacture is often left to the third sector.  A couple of examples that have been brought to my attention who operate in Scotland are Green Works and WorkBack, they offer a range of services and also support the local community. So next time you fancy a change, remember to have a look and see what is out there, you might be surprised by what is on offer.

And that’s the point, if you don’t know, you are better to find out in advance and like any good boy scout, ‘be prepared’. 

Adapting to Climate Change: A Guide for Businesses in Scotland, was launched last month by the Scottish Climate Change Impacts Partnership (SCCIP) and is a good starting point if you would like to learn more about the risks and opportunities that climate change may pose to your business.  SCCIP also have a dedicated Private Sector Officer who can offer free guidance and support if you would like some more in depth advice.

Being prepared for climate change can mean anything from assessing the current situation and gaining reassurance that no action is needed, to changing location of your store room to prevent stock from becoming flooded and damaged, to more long term changes like looking at new markets for your goods and services. 

We all contribute to climate change, but we can also all do our bit to try and reduce by how much.  One of our main messages, that everyone can get involved with, is that by reducing the amount of waste you send to landfill, you can reduce the amount of methane gas that is created, which is a major contributor to climate change.

As we all play a part in creating climate change we will all have to deal with the consequences, and warmer, drier summers and milder, wetter winters will affect us all in some way (and not just in terms of how many times you get chance to use the BBQ in one summer!), but only you can tell and plan for the extent of which climate change will influence the future of your business.

A lot less of this...

......could also mean a lot more of this

Firstly, a big thanks to Joe for keeping us informed and entertained over the past 18 months or so, and we wish him good luck and all the best in his new post.  We won’t let him get away that easily though, so we’ll pay him a visit to see how he’s getting on at Going Carbon Neutral Stirling once he’s had time to settle in.  As for me, I’m going to try and not undo all of the good work that Joe has done, and in his last post he highlighted the fact that the Zero Waste Plan has just been launched, so this seems like an ideal topic for my first blog.

There’s been a lot of talk in the world of waste about the much anticipated Zero Waste Plan and if you’ve not had chance to read it yet (all 59 pages of it), I’ve picked out some salient points which could impact on you and how you run your business.

In brief the Zero Waste Plan sets the direction of the way forward for waste and resource management in Scotland over the next 10 years.  It aims to achieve a Scotland where waste is seen as a resource and everyone plays a role in reducing the demand on the Earth’s natural resources, reusing and recycling materials whenever and wherever possible, and then recovering resources once all of these options have been exhausted.  Scotland is now achieving a recycling and composting rate of 37%, almost double what it was 5 years ago and the plan aims to build on this success.

It all sounds good so far but as with everything the devil is in the detail and the following points bear particular significance to businesses:

  • The Municipal Sold Waste (MSW) target (which was largely household waste) of recycling and composting 70% of waste by 2025 and maximum 5% of waste to landfill now applies to all Scotland’s waste – household, construction, commercial and industry.
  • SEPA will produce a revised Waste Data Strategy outlining the steps and timescales for improving commercial and industrial waste data by the end of 2010.  The Waste Data Strategy will include making use of Regulations to be made under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act by October 2010, establishing a mandatory requirement for businesses receiving waste data requests from SEPA to complete them.
  • Separate collection for food waste from households and business sectors, such as commercial kitchens, hospitality sector, food retailers and manufacturers likely to be by 2013.
  • Separate collection for materials such as paper, cardboard, metal, plastics, textiles and glass from all sources likely to be by 2013.
  • Following the separate collections for materials there will be landfill bans on unsorted waste, with progressive bans on individual materials sent to landfill and a progressive limit of biodegradable content of waste that can be landfilled.
  • A carbon metric will be introduced to be used along side the current tonnage metric which will help prioritise the recycling of resources that offer greater environmental and climate change outcomes.  Although because of the lack of data concerning Commercial and Industrial waste this will not apply to this sector immediately, but likely to be for all waste streams by 2025.
  • Scottish Government will develop a Waste Prevention Programme in line with EU Waste Framework Directive by the end of 2010.
  • Zero Waste Scotland will develop and promote a sustainable procurement toolkit for use by public and private sector to encourage the purchase of products containing recycled content and minimise overall resource use.
  • Zero Waste Scotland will develop good practice commitments for resource management, collection and services provided to householders and businesses, with the aim to achieve consistent services to users.

As you can see it’s certainly an ambitious plan, but there’s not much point in having a plan if it doesn’t push the boundaries and strive to achieve the very best.  Obviously the long term target isn’t going to be reached overnight and separate recycling and composting targets for commercial and industrial waste streams will be developed, (once better data has been collected), acting as stepping stones for this long term goal. 

Separate collections of materials have been highlighted as a priority in order to increase the quality and quantity of the resources recycled and to maintain their value and generate market supply.  The example given in the plan illustrates how food waste can be treated using a biological process, such as anaerobic digestion to produce energy for local homes.

Looking at the Plan in terms of the waste hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle, recovery) it’s good to see that waste prevention is at last getting the attention it deserves.  It is always significantly better to reduce and reuse materials, as this cuts down on the amount of raw materials being used, and recycling still requires energy, so it will be interesting to see what the Waste Prevention Programme delivers at the end of this year.

As a business now is an ideal time, if you are not already doing so, to move towards a ‘zero waste’ way of thinking, so that when the short term targets are introduced you are ideally placed to help Scotland achieve them.  Using resources more sustainably and minimising your waste can also help you to reduce cost, increase profit and gain a competitive advantage. 

Why not complete an internal audit of your business, so you can see if there are any areas where you can design out waste altogether, perhaps by removing the plastic cups from the water cooler so that people have to use their own cups and glasses?  Could you use reusable materials instead of disposable ones, such as washable napkins instead of paper serviettes?  Or could another local business, voluntary group etc. make use of any materials that you produce as a by-product, such as cardboard boxes?  These are only simple examples but by thinking more creatively and looking at each of these steps you can reduce your costs at both the purchasing and disposing ends of your business.  The increase in landfill tax is also an issue to bear in mind, currently it is £48 per tonne of waste and this is set to increase by £8 a year until 2013 when it will be £72 per tonne.  This is a big expense for any business and another good incentive to move towards zero waste sooner, rather than later.

With the development of the Zero Waste Scotland procurement toolkit, and the good practice commitments for waste services, it’s reassuring to know that you will not be left to tackle these issues alone.  Many of the comments we hear concern the inconsistency of services available so hopefully these commitments will go some way to providing support for businesses and alleviating these problems.

In the meantime, don’t forget you can look at our Business Recycling Directory to find your local services and the Green Business Partnership can provide small to medium sized businesses with free and subsidised assistance on how to become more green and maximise the business benefits of doing so.  Envirowise also offers free and independent support to businesses helping you to become more resource efficient and save money.   With all of this help out there, what are you waiting for!?

Also, if you have any of your own ideas on how to reduce, reuse or recycle waste and examples of things you have done that have worked, or even those that haven’t worked so well, why don’t you let us know so that we can pass them on? (See, we’re even into reusing ideas!).

My Last Post

I’m leaving waste behind me. Not literally of course; that would rather make a mockery of my efforts over the last two years. I’m leaving it behind in the sense that I am changing jobs and won’t be working in the waste field as of next Monday as I am joining another team in KSB (Going Carbon Neutral Stirling) to try and help local businesses and the local council reduce their dependency on carbon. I guess waste will still play a part in my new role, as recycling helps reduce carbon overall, but the major components of carbon output tend to be energy based – transport, fuel, heating, lighting, that kind of thing. Also, Waste Aware Business is set to continue, including this blog, so be sure to check back regularly to see new posts from new faces.

A cheeky plug for my new team...

Anyway, I want to thank any and all of you for reading my musings over the months since I began writing both the Waste Aware Scotland and Waste Aware Business blogs. It has certainly been an interesting addition to my day job and a useful outlet for sharing ideas about climate change and waste in Scotland.

I am hugely looking forward to my new role, although I am of course sad to leave my friends at what is now Zero Waste Scotland. I am certain that, with the new Zero Waste Plan (pdf alert – launched yesterday!) the right policies are now in place to reduce, reuse and recycle all waste in Scotland over the coming years to eliminate the need for landfill altogether, or at the very least to meet the 70% recycling target by 2025.

I am convinced a solution to the issues of peak oil and climate change are out there, waiting to be discovered and implemented to create a world where concerned citizens no longer have to fear the environmental effects of economic growth, because that growth will be coupled with a sense of responsibility about the state of the planet for future generations. I am also glad to be living in Scotland at this time, as we seem to have understood this better than many other countries. Although we face challenges, I am certain we are beginning to find the right track to take us to where we need to be, provided we all take our share of responsibility for traversing the road ahead.

Now, if you will allow and indulge me, I would like to leave you with an idea, grounded in philosophy, which translates very neatly into a guide for everyday actions:

Immanuel Kant wrote the “categorical imperative” which he argued should be the basis for all human behaviour:

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

With a head that big, he must be brainy...

This simple statement sums up the solution to many of the problems we face. It asks people to think before they do something, to consider what would happen if everyone else was also to do it. If, in doing so, you create an unpleasant future, then refrain from that action. We do not live alone in this world. Your litter is my litter. Your pollution is my pollution. Your wasted energy is my wasted energy.

Thanks and good luck.

I was at a Sustainable Tourism event in Inverness the other week which attracted a number of local businesses interested in hearing about energy, waste, water and community engagement. It was part of a tour organised by Visit Scotland which I have been helping with by speaking about waste.

As well as the regular speakers, each event also features local business case studies who really bring the sessions alive with details of locally relevant experiences.

Yesterday we were treated to a talk by Bill and Sukie Barber, owners of Bluebell Croft, who discussed some of the issues they have faced in creating a sustainable 5 star self catering business, which has also been awarded the coveted Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold Award.

It may look like Italy, but this is home-grown and Scottish

As well as providing the option of 100% home-grown food (including all meat) during a visitor’s stay, they can also provide lessons on home smoking and basket making. As a nice touch they brought along a basket full of eggs laid by their own fowl, from chickens to geese. I sat next to the basket of eggs on the train back to Edinburgh and it certainly made a good talking point.

Anyway, one of the points made by Bill during his presentation was that they use the principle of Resist alongside Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Whilst “Resist” may, technically, be part of “Reduce” it is still useful to see how we might come to achieve a reduction in our waste by avoiding unnecessary purchases.

For Bill and Sukie, resisting is one of the key elements of sustainable living. If we can resist the lure of the new then we are much better placed to enjoy the things we already have. It makes for a richer life and saves us money. We don’t need to upgrade to the next new handset when our phone contract expires. We don’t need to buy new clothes each and every time we head to the shops. Businesses don’t need to upgrade their board room every six months.

It makes sense. Certainly some of the things I treasure most are old and well-worn.  I may enjoy the thrill of a new item but it doesn’t give me the same sense of satisfaction as trying to make things last.

As Bill pointed out: in Scotland we currently live as if we had three planets worth of resources available. Unless we can find another two Earth type planets somewhere and haul them in for plundering, we’d better scale back what we use and enjoy the things we have.