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Waste management

Good waste management starts with understanding the ‘real or true cost’ of material which ends up as waste. The real cost factors in the energy used to process the material on site, the handling and storage costs associated with the waste materials and the proportional purchase price of the unused materials. Taking into account all these costs, the real cost of waste to a business can be far greater than simply the cost of paying someone to take it away.

The first step to reducing waste in a business is to look in the waste bins to see exactly what is being disposed. Keep an eye out for high value materials because the ‘purchase to disposal ratio’ can be very high, and for wasted finished product, the real cost of waste can be hundreds of times the disposal cost (see case studies below).

Segregation of waste is important as this allows a business to easily see what and how much is being wasted and, then, to identify what types of waste can be avoided. Segregation also separates waste to avoid contamination, making it easier for a business to either reuse wasted material in its operations or to sell the material for recycling.

At all times the key objective should be eliminating or reducing waste, especially high value waste materials. Actions a business could take to reduce waste include:

For unavoidable waste:

  • Look for opportunities to sell the material for recycling.
  • Review waste collection contracts. There is ‘no one size that fits all’ with waste contracts. Businesses should ensure that contracts suit the business’ needs, and there are significant savings that can be made. See Sustainability Victoria’s ‘Best Practise Waste and Recycling Contracts for Business’ guide.
  • For many businesses, especially retail, food and beverage industries, packaging can be a considerable cost. Business should look at reducing packaging or redesigning packaging to use fewer materials or so packaging can be reused. See Packaging for more ideas on how to reduce packaging waste.

Case studies

A resource assessment partly funded by Sustainability Victoria which reviewed the operations of clothing manufacturer Nobody Denim found that the real cost of disposed finished wasted garment was 425 times what the business was paying to dispose of it. Nobody Denim introduced changes to operations to reduce the amount of wasted ‘finished’ product. Read the Nobody Denim case study.

A similar resource assessment of commercial printer Pemara Printing, found that the ratio of purchase price to disposal cost of its two key materials, ink and polypropylene plastic, was 70:1 and 55:1 respectively. Pemara introduced process changes including the optimising of layout of process. Read the Pemara case study.

Other resources

Zero Waste SA's Waste Management and Reduction Guide for Retail Industry includes a number of case studies and sections on Identifying Waste Minimisation Opportunities (Section 4) and Marketing alternatives (economic advantages) (Section 6 ).

The USA EPA’s Business Guide for Reducing Solid Waste is a detailed guide providing step-by-step instructions designed to assist medium and large businesses to establish a waste reduction program. Key chapters include Getting Started and How to conduct a Waste Assessment. Overall emphasis is on avoidance and understanding the true cost of waste.

The Victorian EPA and Australian Industry Group have developed a step by step guide Developing a waste minimisation culture which summarises how to harness and enhance in-house knowledge.

The Australian Grape and Wine Authority’s publication The Lean Guide for the Australian Wine Industry discusses ways to better manage waste and to increase efficiency and productivity.