Why waste should be higher up the climate agenda

  Chris Williams


Six months on from COP26, and we are reminded that there are far fewer conversations about waste management and its impact on the climate than there should be.

For developed countries, waste is a largely unseen problem, out of sight out of mind. It gets collected. It goes somewhere. And so they are not seeing, hearing, breathing in or suffering from the effects of giant landfill sites and poor waste management as exists in developing countries

It’s also actually far more exciting to talk about electric cars, offshore windfarms and solar panels than it is to talk about waste.

But waste is here to stay, and only by reducing it and managing it can we start to clear up one of the issues that has a clear and considerable impact on the climate.

Why waste matters

The more we use, the more we waste. And that waste has to go somewhere. As soon as we dump it in a landfill or burn it, we are adding significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next 25 years, as we are trying our hardest to keep global temperature increases down, we are also likely to need more energy and be producing more stuff.

For us, that’s where the waste hierarchy comes in – the waste and recycling companies we are working with are transitioning to a circular economy: one where waste is collected, sorted, resold, reused or recycled to minimise the amount of waste ending up in landfill.

Image: European Environment Agency

The key, of course, is to prevent waste altogether. That means changing our attitudes to consumption and stopping the extraction of raw materials. This goal is supported by reusing more of what’s been thrown away, thereby reducing the demand for something new. Recycling helps to put materials back in the production chain where they can be used instead of virgin materials keep valuable materials out of landfill.

In an illustration used by Al Gore in one of his popular TED Talks, the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses include coal plants, oil production, forest burning, air transport – and landfills.

Mature and forward-thinking waste and recycling companies are embracing the commercial and ethical opportunities of the circular economy. And they’re doing this for some key reasons:

  • It’s good business sense – businesses will make more money from separating and reselling waste products than from dumping them.
  • It’s a legal requirement – increasingly, governments are legislating against excessive landfill, with higher taxes and minimum operating requirements.
  • Customers expect it – with increasing expectation from the public and investors, alongside legal requirements to demonstrate that they are treating the waste from their operations seriously, businesses need a waste and recycling partner who is committed to best practice.
  • It’s the right thing to do – there’s no escaping or denying the climate crisis. Businesses that fail to prepare or actively commit to positive changes will suffer reputational and financial damage.

Time for waste to be front and centre

Just ahead of COP26, Dr Adam Read, President of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, said that global leaders needed to fully recognise the role that waste and recycling management plays in supporting net zero targets.

He said that there was clear evidence that good waste and recycling management made a difference. For example, in the UK alone in 2018: “Sector activities resulted in almost 50 million tonnes of CO2e emissions being avoided across the economy – the equivalent to taking 10 million cars off British roads.”

“Creating a circular economy and a world beyond waste – where resource efficiency is maximised, the waste hierarchy adhered to, and our materials put back to use – could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 39%. The fact that the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (COP26) hasn’t fully recognised the integral part the resources and waste sector has to play in helping to reach net zero targets, not just in the UK, but globally, is a critical oversight on their part.”

As pioneers of the critical software that helps waste and recycling companies manage their businesses within the circular economy, we fully agree. Waste control and management represents a huge opportunity to make a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and to supporting a sea-change in the way consumers and businesses think about consumption and waste.

Find out more about how our Waste and Recycling One software can transform your business by delivering instant control and complete visibility across your entire waste management and recycling operations.

CTA banner

ISB Global logo