Waste as a resource
Mounting pressure on the environment from a growing population with its increased demands on our resources means that we need to look at our waste differently. A society with a zero waste philosophy will be inherently better able to provide what we need with less impact on the environment.
To many, the term circular economy reflects the end point that zero waste can take us to – a world where all we produce, consume, use and dispose of goes to make the next generation’s resources. Business is now looking at waste as a resource, and a way to reduce costs as well as add value.
Where is the agenda for business at?
If you are not recycling, you are paying too much. We are now in the position of finding that the cost of waste disposal is significantly greater than the cost of recycling many items. Who would have thought that common plastics would be more valuable for reuse than some common metals and glass? This is so by a factor of more than five in many cases.
This economic benefit of recycling is driven by two factors: the market value of the material and the cost of disposal. In major Australian cities, the cost of disposal to landfill can be a tenth of the cost of transporting materials to landfill. Emptying part-full bins, trucking through crowded city streets, the labour required in loading and unloading, sorting and storage all add to the costs of finally disposing of waste to landfill.
Smart businesses are looking for better ways of dealing with waste. Already in NSW the Bin Trim program has helped more than 21,000 businesses reduce their waste. If recyclables are removed, the major part of the remaining waste in bins is the organic fraction. And amazing uses are being invented – from toner cartridges being turned into TonerPave road making materials, and toothpaste tubes into pencil cases, to hair from hairdressers being turned into spill absorbent products.
Where are we headed?
Technologies exist to take the organic component of the waste in our bins and turn it into either soil improvement products like compost or heat-treated organic residue. More recently, new technologies can pre- treat organic waste making it suitable for legal disposal to sewers. This brings massive additional benefits, such as fewer truck movements, less loading dock real estate requirements, no handling issues and lower costs.
Many are also understanding that a small investment in our environment makes a big difference to the future. Recycling schemes for goods such as computers, fluorescent tubes, paint, tyres, mattresses, phones and batteries are evolving, where for a small investment from producers a shared responsibility by the community is making a major impact.
But the real test of success is people wanting it – and it’s clear that our communities have spoken. Container Deposit Schemes demonstrate just how this can work – some 90 percent of people in Australia support such
a scheme to make a better environment. Governments in most parts of Australia are responding. Just as one
of the great changes brought in by container deposit schemes relates to less litter, it also pertains to changed ways of thinking about what we do, the waste we make, and how we collect and reuse it.
What will success look like?
Many think that not creating waste in the first place will, of course, be the pinnacle of what can be achieved. But I believe success can go a step further. Designing our waste for its future use turns it into a ‘designer resource’… something that we plan to use.
Success is not just a measure of diversion from landfill, but rather about behaviour change. At News Corp Australia, we have found that communicating in an engaging and positive way is a key part of achieving our zero waste goals and goes beyond that by fostering resource efficient mindsets. That change can then lead to better ways of enjoying our society.
Less waste can mean less transport clogging our cities, fewer costs draining our economy and more resources building new business opportunities.
Our society is coming to a crossroads where it can model itself on the sustainable natural environment…ultimately, there is no such thing as waste in nature.