Zero waste to landfill

The zero waste to landfill trend is growing. In 2016, 52.3 million tonnes was still being disposed of to landfill but, as more and more local authorities and businesses show an interest in declaring themselves landfill-free, all the signs suggest that the movement is set to increase.

The benefits are numerous. While zero waste to landfill helps to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the environment, it is also a key tool in the shift towards net zero carbon emissions and the first step in moving waste up the hierarchy in line with Circular Economy targets.

The waste industry is well-positioned to help councils. For example, depending on the material, recycling or composting can save anything from 9kg to 9,267kg of CO2e per tonne versus landfill. Multiply this across a typical local authority output, and the impact is huge.

For those considering zero waste to landfill certification, it is important to remember that removal from landfill is not the final goal. Instead, we should aim to shift waste up the hierarchy, focusing on reduction and reuse.

The first step is to build a clear picture of exactly how much waste is being sent to landfill; tracking systems can help to bridge gaps if contractors are unable to provide accurate data on disposal routes. At Valpak, the certification team works closely with our Recycling Services department to find alternative routes for any problem materials. We then liaise with the organisation to set realistic reporting periods. These might be monthly or quarterly, with a typical organisation taking around one to two years to achieve certification.

Education is paramount. Senior management backing is essential but, just as important, is staff engagement.

Communicating performance to show staff how they are improving is also valuable. Comparing achievements across multiple sites can develop a competitive streak that drives progress.

Stay abreast of changes in recycling markets and new legislation. For example, new rules on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) mean that local authorities disposing of waste electricals will need to check that contractors have systems in place to deal with any short-term surplus of materials.

A certification body such as Valpak can check systems and provide certification for organisations that have already achieved zero waste to landfill. For those not there yet, we help conducting audits, liaising with suppliers, tracking waste, or finding a solution for niche materials.

Some materials – such as asbestos – have to be sent to landfill but, where you cannot move away from landfill, education and reduction can still make a big difference. It is worth remembering that zero waste to landfill is a key milestone for where industry is heading. If we want to achieve Circular Economy targets, zero waste to landfill is the first step.