Transition to a zero waste economy

You’ve come a long way baby – ‘that’ album by Fatboy Slim. And also true of the journey us resource management professionals have been on, in my case for the last quarter of a century. Where – and what – next?

Back in the mists of time, there was a right old hoo-ha over the definition of ‘zero waste’ and many demonstrated consternation that this term should be qualified in any way, such as by adding ‘…to landfill’ on the end.

However, this was a statement of fact and a mark of progress. It was SMART – specific, measurable, achievable (…?), realistic and timely – with a deadline. In contrast to a fluffy, Utopian nothing (sometime very soon).

Many organisations have now set targets to send zero waste to landfill, but the UK is still landfilling millions of tonnes of waste. The resource management industry is continuing to invest in infrastructure to move waste up the hierarchy, and inform and educate supply chains, partners, clients, customers and neighbours on how to reduce, reuse and recycle more.

There is a clear need for more facilities to treat waste, and ensure the maximum value is recovered from the things we do all still throw away. Not just for the several million tonnes of residual waste being landfilled, but also for the 2.5 million tonnes exported for energy recovery – you know, where we pay to get rid of a valuable resource, and then pay to get hold of the green electrons through the interconnector to reduce the carbon intensity of grid electricity.

You’ve come a long way baby (C) Fatboy Slim

As we approach 2020, the 30 year countdown to achieving net zero carbon by 2050 commences. In reality, to achieve this target some pretty big decisions will need to be taken by 2030.

And so the transition starts now. It is one where we must ensure interim solutions are in place rapidly, so that the really, really big ticket items – things like societal shifts and behavioural change – can happen by 2050.

Food, travel, energy – and resources. Stuff.

This makes it critical to ensure residual waste is driven out of landfill and into energy recovery, combined with unprecedented investment in reducing and reusing, and ensuring the things we do use that we can’t reuse are designed with recycling in mind.

Here’s a Linked In post about an EfW facility I’ve been working on for my client, Amey. The proposals offer a really good chance of utilising heat as well as generating electricity, and will ensure another 250,000 tonnes of waste are neither landfilled nor exported.

The facility would add to the 100,000 tonnes of recyclables and 55,000 tonnes of food and garden waste composted at the site. Meanwhile, the busy education centre will continue to promote the 4Rs messages – reduce, reuse, recycle, recover.

Here’s to the next quarter-century and a fantastic start to the 2020s – the decade of transition.