Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland
The successful business of the future is one that has reduced waste, reduced energy use, reduced water use and has reduced its carbon emissions. This topic provides an overview of what businesses can do now to head in this direction and contribute to a more sustainable economy.
In our existing economy,
In a circular economy
We have made a lot of progress in reducing the amount of waste we dispose of, by segregating wastes and recycling them. We are also making progress in the use of resources, by looking at energy, water and materials efficiency.
For example, we mine aluminium ore, smelt it into aluminium and manufacture drink cans and other products. Many of these products are used once, and then disposed of. Recycling rates are improving, and the manufacturing process is using less aluminium, but there is still a loss of materials, mainly to landfill. This means more aluminium needs to be mined and smelted. If all aluminium could be retained from goods that were designed to be reused or taken apart when they reach the end of their useful life, this would significantly reduce the need for primary extraction.
This is an example of what is meant by the circular economy.
This guideline explains what actions you can take to support the shift in focus from making improvements to existing manufacturing methods, to creating new methods of design and manufacture that will help to move us towards a circular economy.
In the following sections, this guideline also explains how taking these actions can benefit your business.
The first priority in a more circular economy is to avoid unnecessary waste and use fewer resources in the first instance.
There is evidence that in terms of the UK’s footprint we use the equivalent of 2.9 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste we produce.
This demand is already placing the environment under pressure.
A more circular approach should:
Take the first steps on your cost saving journey to resource efficiency
Review your processes
Reduce your waste
Reduce your food waste
Contribute to relevant UK Voluntary Agreements
Use advice about resource efficiency and free practical help from a range of organisations.
Zero Waste Scotland: Love Food hate waste
Landfilling materials, which are no longer fit for purpose or which we no longer want, means those materials are effectively lost from our society. We are not getting maximum value from them.
We need to rethink our approach to how goods are supplied, how they are used and what happens at the end of a product’s life. We need to keep materials, components and products in use (in a high value state) for as long as possible.
This way of thinking applies to how we manage our food wastes and other bio-based resources and wastes. This includes anaerobic digestion, composting or bio-refining. These enable the recirculation of nutrients, whilst avoiding harmful greenhouse gases. Some of these technologies can be sued to produce energy. To further support the transition to a circular economy we need to increase the proportion of bio-based wastes used for the production of high value materials and chemicals.
VIDEO - Celtic Renewables: Biobutane
Find the highest value market for your unwanted materials, components and products and prioritise reuse, then repair, then remanufacturing before recycling:
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was established in 2010 with the aim of accelerating the transition to a circular economy. Their system diagram below illustrates the continuous flow of technical and biological materials through the ‘value circle’:
The design of a product, process or system and the design of a business model determines how efficiently materials can be used and how effectively they can be kept circulating in the economy. Up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage; this includes how easily something can be repaired or recycled.
How design can benefit your business
Product and process design
Instead of basing your business on product sales there are alternative business models that would enable you to retain the value in products and materials and keep them circulating in the economy - for example, servicing and / or repairing goods before returning them to the original or secondary market. You could:
The concept of reuse is well understood at a community level and the practice is widespread for domestic goods. However, to support the transition to a circular economy, the practice needs to be adopted more widely at a business and industry level.
Reuse is about enabling a material or product to continue being used for its original purpose even though it has become surplus to your needs – simply by changing the owner. Doing this retains the inherent value of the materials and requires no reprocessing of the product. This makes it a better option for the environment than recycling, which involves breaking the product down and remaking the same thing or producing something else.
By re-using materials and goods we are reducing the use of virgin materials and energy; and the air and water pollution associated with the extraction (e.g. mining, quarrying and logging), processing and manufacture of raw materials.
How this can benefit your business
In recent years, the repair of goods has reduced for a number of reasons, such as cheaper products, the pace of technological change and the complexity of products. But repair is an essential part of moving to a circular economy. Repair must once again become convenient and cost-effective. Both manufacturers and users can support repair.
How supporting repair or providing a repair service can benefit your business
Remanufacturing extends the life and usefulness of materials by returning a used product to at least its original performance with a warranty that is equivalent to or better than that of the new product.
This process involves dismantling the product, restoring and replacing components and testing the individual parts and the finished product to ensure that it is within its original design specifications. The price of remanufactured products is typically lower than the price of a comparable new product.
Remanufacturing is not new in the UK and is common in aerospace, automotive parts, energy and rail industries. Some businesses that produce remanufactured goods also produce new goods.
How this can benefit your business
Operating a remanufacturing business can:
Purchasing remanufactured goods can:
As a manufacturer you can:
As a consumer you can:
Re-using, repairing and remanufacturing help to get maximum value from waste materials and products. Recycling retains less of the value. However, recycling plays an important role in the circular economy.
Traditional recycling produces items that are of a lower value and quality than the original item or material, when it may be known as ‘downcycling’. A typical example is plastic, which when recycled is turned into a lower grade plastic.
There is now a growing trend to ‘upcycle’, which means changing an unwanted or discarded item into something with a higher value and quality than the original item e.g. upcycling shoe boxes into storage containers; turning a step ladder into a shelf; or painting a piece of furniture.
How recycling can benefit your business
You must comply with your Duty of Care for waste:
You must comply with special requirements for recycling certain wastes, such as:
Attend an ’upcycling’ workshop: Upcycled World
Recycle for Scotland: Find your local recycling facilities
Resource Efficient Scotland: Find recycling services in your area
NI Direct: Recycling and reusing
A new framework for tackling waste has been unveiled by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), focussing on how SEPA will support a circular economy in Scotland.
One Planet Prosperity – A Waste to Resources Framework
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has published a short guide to the duty of care responsibilities including advice and information for waste producers, carriers and those accepting, storing and treating waste.
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