From Waste to Resource Management Part 2

By Lisney, Robert; Riley, Keith et al. | Management Services, January 2004 | Go to article overview

From Waste to Resource Management Part 2

Lisney, Robert, Riley, Keith, Banks, Charles, Management Services

Dealing with society's waste is one of the major environmental challenges facing the UK. In part 1 of this article last month the

authors argued that a fundamental change in approach is needed if the UK is to avoid implementing less than sustainable solutions in the race to ensure compliance with both current and forthcoming EC regulations.

Last month we concluded with the authors' assertion that "It is vital that the process chain is systematically energized and engaged at all levels to achieve sustainable resource management. This is currently undertaken in a patchy and piecemeal way. An integrated 'top down' and 'bottom up' approach is needed linking Government actions to correct market failures with national awareness campaigns, and local engagement on a sector-by-sector basis."

This month we look at the waste management interface and the resource park concept recommended by the authors.

The Waste Management Interface

An effective interface between the process chain discussed last month and the waste management system is fundamental to resource management. The implication of the current trends is that household, and commercial and industrial (C&I) wastes will increasingly be handled through separate waste infrastructure systems.

The system dealing with household waste will be paid for by the public sector to meet with community aspirations. The system dealing with commercial and industrial waste will comply with minimum regulatory requirements and be financed by the private sector at least cost.

This situation will become more prevalent as waste disposal authorities seek to meet their obligations under the Landfill Directive by contracting for new household waste facilities on a finance, design, build and operate basis using the Private Finance Initiative or similar. The emergence of such twin-track waste handling and processing systems is potentially not the most sustainable solution.

As noted previously, one of the current impacts is that SMEs are often unable to access affordable recycling services. The impact of this in terms of the message it sends out to the process chain is potentially much greater than the loss of recovered tonnage. The optimum solution is a resource management system, based on the integration of recycling and recovery of resources from household, commercial and industrial wastes, by moving to a new infrastructure system based on key resource streams: a step change from the current approach that primarily looks at waste in terms of the sources that produce it.

One approach that can be adopted is to make use of the resource categorisation system developed under the Zero Waste concept. Knapp/Van Deventer (2001) have identified twelve master resource categories, into which it is claimed that all types of waste fit with nothing being left out or left over. These master categories can be sub-divided in a range of ways into sub-streams. The chief weakness of the system lies in the fact than many products are composite in nature and do not naturally fall into any one category: this has significant implications for the potential for resource recovery that needs to be addressed earlier in the process chain by looking at product design and end-of-life disassembly.

The master category concept is a useful starting point for an analysis of the key resource groupings in household, commercial and industrial waste, but by itself it is of limited use in indicating the type of collection systems or infrastructure needed to maximise recycling and recovery. To achieve this it is necessary to consider how the materials can be returned in a sustainable manner to the cycle of utility, by reuse, sorting, disassembly and remanufacture, and/or re-processing on either human or natural timescales. If the twelve master resource categories: (Food, Plant, Wood, Paper, Textiles, Plastic, Chemicals, Metals, Glass, Ceramics, Soil and Waste Debris) are viewed from this perspective the range of options for sustainable resource management and utilisation is limited, and once these are recognised they impose requirements on the collection system and infrastructure. …

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