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Closed Loop Recycling: A Step Closer to Zero Waste?

Jim Hardisty, Managing Director of, urges businesses to spend more time considering how products destined to be recycled are handled and transported.

Zero waste is a term that’s massively over used, quite possibly because by definition it’s not particularly clear. According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume of waste and materials, recover all resources and not burn or bury them. So is it right that there are companies claiming zero waste even though they still send some materials to landfill?

Without anyone policing the correct use of the term, we will inevitably reach a point where its dilution leads to it being replaced by a new buzz word. So rather than get caught up chasing an unrealistic goal, I think businesses should spend more time considering the practical processes they use to recycle and reuse as much of their waste as possible.

Increasing legislation and regulations demanding that businesses reduce their environmental impact has led to a greater focus on the way that products destined to be recycled are handled and transported.

Single-use packaging like cardboard, tape, wrappings and polystyrene presents one of the biggest challenges for businesses in their quest to cut the amount of waste they send to landfill. Under the EC Packaging and Waste Directive, all businesses with an annual turnover of more than £2million and that handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year have a legal responsibility to ensure that a proportion of the packaging waste they place on the market is recovered and recycled.

This year, obligated UK businesses are expected to recover 76% of their packaging waste and recycle 69.9%. Although ambitious, progress to date suggests that these targets are attainable since of the 10.8million tonnes of packaging waste disposed of in the UK in 2011, around 67% was recovered in comparison to only 27% in 1998.

Ahead of next week’s Complete Auto Recycling and Secondary Materials trade show, the automotive industry is a fitting example of one that’s working tirelessly to reduce waste sent to landfill.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ most recent Automotive Sustainability Report, in 2012 the total amount of waste going to landfill from materials production dropped by 21.1% and by 6.7% per vehicle.

Whilst increasing environmental strategies to achieve landfill-free facilities is high on the automotive sector’s agenda, it’s crucial that UK businesses – regardless of their industry – remain open to considering new ways of reusing and recycling waste.

Adopting a closed loop approach to waste management can help businesses achieve their challenging recycling targets, without escalating costs. Putting a closed loop system in place can be as simple as using returnable transit packaging (RTP) for the collection and disposal of waste.

For example, returnable plastic containers are specifically designed for multiple trips over an extended life. These durable plastic containers offer a rapid return on investment and a lower cost per trip than single trip products. According to industry research, plastic containers are more carbon efficient than single trip cardboard after just 20 trips, will recover their cost after just 12 trips and can be reused for at least 92 trips.

They also offer substantial benefits for bulk waste recycling over the currently wider used metal container, since they are more hygienic, lighter to handle and weather-resistant. Ultimately, at the end of their long working life, plastic containers can be re-ground and reused to produce other plastic products – creating a double win for waste recycling.