How to Optimise Your Company’s Waste Management Sustainably
08 September 2022
When it comes to waste management, companies face numerous challenges.
For example, there is a constant need to stay up to date with the latest legislation, such as the CSR Directive. Additionally, the requirements pertaining to disposal and reporting are becoming increasingly stringent, and the standards for audits are also getting stricter.
Furthermore, software applications and management programmes are often dominated by insular solutions that are hardly networked or are not even networked at all. As a result, processes can only be partially standardised and require significant manual reworking. All of this leads to a lack of transparency in the analysis of the current situation, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to compare different waste generation points, to track waste flows and to check whether targets have been achieved.
Finally, competitiveness is also increasingly determined by the sustainability profile. According to a survey conducted by the Frankfurt Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK Frankfurt), 46% of companies stated that customer expectations are the most important reason for their transformation efforts. 41% also mentioned making themselves more attractive as employers is also a factor.In practice, three main objectives are being pursued by several companies when it comes to waste management:
- lowering costs,
- reducing the overall amount of waste and
- increasing the recycling rate.
With these goals, both the economic-entrepreneurial and the ecological-sustainable dimensions are to be taken into consideration. However, achieving both at the same time is only possible if processes are made more efficient in a consistent and goal-oriented manner. We have compiled five tips on how this can be achieved.
1. Create a Complete Database
Comprehensive and transparent data management is the basis for every management process, including waste management. Only when the actual situation can be correctly mapped and analysed using sound data can realistic targets be set and achieved in a timely manner.
This requires a reliable and consistent database. To optimise waste management, the database must be able to record waste streams, quantities of recyclable materials, information pertaining to disposers and collection data all broken down by point of generation.
Moreover, dependable data is indispensable for both internal and external reporting. "After all, validating data should not be the main focus of an EMAS officer," Peter Harrecker, Head of Operations at Resourcify, quite appropriately points out. "Comparability across different locations is also extremely relevant. After all, disposal orders, service providers and waste types are complex, and only consistency in recording can ensure that regulations in effect are complied with."
It is therefore important to start with data collection and management. The more these can be transferred to automated processes, the easier the tasks of management and reporting become. The latter is becoming more and more challenging due to the gradual tightening of standards stipulated by the new CSR Directive - more information on this can be found in our article "CSR Directive 2.0".
2. Analyse Waste Streams
Companies often underestimate just how much valuable material is left in their waste. Analysing waste streams can identify these - while, at the same time, increasing the recycling rate. By sorting waste more thoroughly, as little waste as possible ends up in thermal recycling, i.e., incineration.
Such analysis is also especially significant when a company has potentially hazardous waste streams. For example, the Bonn University Hospital must dispose of hazardous medical materials, among other materials. Only through the analysis of such and other waste types - including quantities - can the appropriate and most cost-effective disposal companies be found.
"Whether it is contaminated waste or mixed plastics, people often do not separate and dispose of waste carefully enough due to either a lack of interest or ignorance," Peter Harrecker reports from his extensive experience. "Yet it is highly beneficial, especially in the case of commercial waste, to collect and separate waste streams. This means that only hazardous goods are sent for costly special disposal, and all residual waste that cannot be recycled, i.e., quasi municipal waste, is sent for thermal recovery."
Yasmin Palij, Waste Optimisation Manager at Resourcify, adds: "Sometimes you have small fractions that, at first glance, amount to very little, but add up over the course of the year to actually allow them to be separated and marketed profitably. A closer look alone therefore has enormous cost-saving potential.”
3. Train and Support Employees
Most of the responsibility for proper disposal and recycling rests on the shoulders of individual employees. By providing necessary and useful information, companies can ease the burden on their employees - and ultimately on the cost balance sheet. "When greater waste separation can be achieved directly at the point of generation, there can be a bigger transformation of waste into recyclable materials," explains Yasmin Palij.
The required know-how can be built up through a variety of strategies. For example, QR codes can link to sorting instructions at collection points. However, boosting motivation is nearly the most important aspect. Among other things, this is possible through authentic employee communication and clear, uncomplicated processes. Raising staff awareness in this way brings best practices from theory into reality.
4. Choose the Right Key Figures
Key figures are an indispensable tool for companies to keep track of their waste management. We have compiled a selection of the most important key figures for waste management for you here within.
However, to be able to do justice for the individual situation of the company, the group or the source location, a conscious selection and prioritisation of these key figures is necessary. They also enable, for example, the comparison of locations with each other.
Nevertheless, which metrics will be useful (and relevant) for your company depends mainly on your goals. Yasmin Palij gives a practical example: "Increasing the recycling rate and reducing absolute costs at the same time can pull in different directions." Based on reliable data, the concrete goals of waste management must therefore be aligned with the overall strategy of the company and corresponding key performance indicators (also known as KPIs) must be defined.
5. Implement Efficient Monitoring
Once all the aforementioned optimisation approaches have been implemented - reliable data is collected, waste streams are analysed in detail, employees are trained, and key figures are selected - it is time to track the progress made towards achieving these objectives. Monitoring is a strong motivator for consolidating responsibility in new or adapted processes.
The monitoring frequency must be tailored to the needs of the company. In addition to the annual reporting obligations, closer monitoring on a quarterly or monthly basis can pay off, especially in an early implementation phase of measures. This is the only way to properly assess the degree of target achievement and to readjust processes.
Optimised Sustainability Management Through Digitalisation
Despite all efforts, waste disposal management continues to be a challenge. A survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung at the end of 2021 showed that, at 54%, more than half of sustainability managers surveyed believe that high costs and a lack of resources are the biggest obstacles impeding the transition to greater sustainability in their companies. This is precisely why digitalisation is an important tool. By automating routine tasks and simplifying processes, waste and recyclables management can be optimised. This brings the goal of both reducing costs and increasing recycling rates within reach.
"Digital solutions can significantly increase the sorting capacity and thus drastically reduce the amount of waste that has to be disposed of thermally," explains Yasmin Palij. "This allows for much more control over disposal routes and turns all kinds of waste into recyclable material that can have a positive impact on the cost balance by being sold or reused."
Hence, these five approaches are our tips for optimising operational waste management:
- Create a Complete Database
- Analyse Waste Streams
- Train and Support Employees
- Choose the Right Key Figures
- Implement Efficient Monitoring
Combined with digital tools, this forms a strong, sustainable strategy for waste management.