Environment: A Business Issue

By Hewitt, Roger | Management Today, October 1992 | Go to article overview

Environment: A Business Issue


Hewitt, Roger, Management Today


How much more are we prepared to pay for waste disposal? The question is asked because whichever way we look at it, corporately or personally, we are going to have to pay more -- probably, a lot more.

Years ago the question would not have been asked. Our domestic waste -- and much of our commercial waste -- was taken away by the local authority and disposed of, we assumed, appropriately. Our only thought was whether the service was reasonable compared to the rates bill we paid. Often our perception was that it was not.

But times have changed. Waste disposal is firmly on the public agenda, due to legislative changes driven chiefly by the pursuit of higher environmental standards. Shanks & McEwan are understandably in the vanguard of these changes. But industry generally is beginning to feel the effects and, unless these are taken into account, they will hit company balance sheets.

Waste disposal in the UK has been done on the cheap for years. In some areas, it still is. Shanks & McEwan is one of the most technically advanced waste disposal operators. The company's strategic aim is to provide a well rounded service, using highest technologically safe practice -- whether it means landfilling household refuse, treating difficult industrial wastes or destroying hazardous chemical wastes by high temperature incineration.

But investment in such technology is costly, and the aim -- and rightly so -- is that |best available technology' should be applied to all waste disposal routes. The rider, |not entailing excessive cost', in most cases is frankly irrelevant; the aim is to ensure basic standards of safety for both people and the environment. Already, new landfills are scientifically engineered to very high standards and incineration plants face tough new emission criteria.

Current European and UK policy on waste management is simple but it is not yet widely understood that it cannot be regarded as a panacea for all waste management problems.

There are several options for the treatment or disposal of waste: waste minimisation and reduction -- in other words, not creating it in the first place; recovery of materials from waste streams for recycling and re-use; incineration, preferably with energy generation potential; landfill, again with the potential for electricity generation from the burning of methane gas.

It is of concern, however, that there are those who approach these matters too simplistically. For instance, recycling is not an end in itself. There must be viable and economic markets for recovered materials -- and this is not always the case. Incineration is effective but it is costly to develop and does not enjoy universal public support. It also leaves a residue which must be landfilled -- and landfilling, too, remains misunderstood. …

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