Waste in the Workplace: What you need to know

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The waste hierarchy was set out in the Waste Framework Directive, a 2008 European Union Directive. This ranks methods of managing and controlling it. In order of preference, these are:

• Prevention
• Preparation for reuse
• Recycling
• Other recovery
• Disposal

Prevention involves using less material, keeping a product for a longer duration, reusing materials, and using materials that are less hazardous to the environment. Preparing for reuse involves checking, cleaning and repairing objects so that they avoid becoming waste. The other three methods are concerned with what happens to waste once it has been created. Recycling it will turn it into a new product, whereas “other recovery” may involve, for example, incineration (with energy recovery). Disposal is the least preferred option, because the waste will end up as landfill, or be incinerated without any energy being recovered.

Identifying the waste your organisation produces

Of course, merely knowing how best to prevent or otherwise handle waste does not constitute a strategy. Before formulating a strategy, it is necessary to quantify and classify your organisation’s waste streams.

Every type of waste produced by your organisation will have its own particular impact on the economy, and its own suitable method of disposal. Every separate stream offers its own potential for reducing, reusing or recycling, which affects the demands placed on any waste management contractor your organisation uses.

Identifying and classifying waste allows the health and safety practitioner to look at how best to separate streams and minimise costs, and develop individual strategies for each stream, by applying the waste hierarchy.

Waste streams may be categorised as follows:
• General refuse
• Paper
• Production scrap
• Construction waste
• Special wastes.

General refuse includes waste such as litter bin contents. There may be items placed in bins that could be recovered, so it is important to check whether any recovery or recycling programmes are in place to reduce the amount of waste that goes into general refuse. For example, used polystyrene cups may be recovered by vending machine operators, and printer cartridges may be collected by charities.

Paper is an important waste stream in any organisation. Since January 2015, it has been a legal requirement, under the Waste Regulations, to separate paper (as well as plastic, metal and glass) from other waste. However, it is also important to consider reducing the amount of paper that is used. To this end, procedures such as printing on both sides, and only printing if necessary, are helpful.

If your organisation’s work involves plastic or metal, you will already have a collection arrangement in place for the scrap that you produce. However, there is always scope for improvement in production methods to reduce the amount of scrap that is generated.

Where construction waste is concerned, if your organisation is having any building work done, it should be the contractor’s responsibility to get rid of any waste they generate. However, could you re-purpose any items, such as doors or floorboards, elsewhere in your organisation?

Special wastes include substances that might ordinarily be discarded in general waste, but ought to be disposed of with greater care. Separate containers are necessary for special wastes, and, in the interests of the environment and cost, it is important not to allow general waste to contaminate this stream. For example, when polystyrene cups are discarded in a hospital’s clinical waste bins, they are incinerated. The hospital is paying for something to be burned when it could instead be recycled.

Developing a waste management strategy

Firstly, having identified the different waste streams within your organisation, you should account for the waste that is produced. Carry out an audit to determine how much is generated, and what costs are involved.

Secondly, compare your organisation’s performance with industry standards. Determine whether best practice is being followed.

Thirdly, walk around your organisation to gauge opportunities to minimise waste. Ask questions and listen to what staff members tell you, then use this information to build a case to present to senior management.

Fourthly, present your case and make it clear to the senior management team that reducing waste will cut costs. Of course, you will need resources to implement waste reduction measures, so demonstrate the need for sufficient funding to them. When you receive the necessary resources, form a working group to generate ideas.

Fifthly, take action. Begin with the areas in which immediate savings could be made with the minimum of cost and effort. Ensure that waste management is enshrined in your organisation’s policies and procedures, too.

Lastly, conduct regular reviews to determine what has been achieved and how improvements can be made. Share your findings with staff and senior management. Always aim for continuous improvement in how you manage and control waste in the workplace.

The Avensure Health & Safety team are happy to talk you through the health and safety procedures businesses need to have in place and how to start the process, so please contact us if you want to discuss your health and safety needs in more detail.

Please quote your Client Account Number on all correspondence and telephone calls. 24-hour client advice line: 0800 151 2935