Big manufacturers need to redesign our (circular) economy

Last year saw the UK government call on all businesses to sign up to the globally recognised UN Race to Zero Climate Commitment, by pledging to go One Step Greener during COP26. With 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from the way we make and use products and food, local business needs to start looking at how they contribute.

The South African government has already been implementing the appropriate changes; last year, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries released an updated National Waste Management Strategy, which outlined government policy and strategic interventions for the waste sector and is aligned and responsive to the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Over the last year or so we have seen a small increase in big manufacturing businesses wanting to improve their environmental footprint and reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill, but not enough has happened yet,” says Justice Tootla, managing director of waste management company Averda.

“It is not as complicated as it seems. For this to be achieved, business will need to partner with an expert in waste to help develop a comprehensive end-to-end waste management programme that will help drive a circular economy.”

An example, he says, is one of their customers. This large packaging company started to rethink their attitude towards waste and embraced the need to build an integrated waste cycle.  With the goal to reduce their general waste by 30% over the course of 12 months, Averda assisted them by reviewing and upgrading their waste management systems and in that way implement a more sustainable approach across the company’s sites.

The recycling waste collected at the factory will be moved to a designated waste area for further sorting and segregation to help reduce landfill volumes and to increase the amount of recyclables collected, which will then generate a financial rebate for the company. This rebate will offset the implementation costs of the new recycling system.

Tootla says that the programme needed the buy-in from the company’s decision-makers as well as from its own employees.

“We included comprehensive staff training at all levels, ensuring that the staff had a better understanding of the regulation and the impact it has on the environment, their communities and working space.

“Most of our contracts look beyond just recycling of normal waste but also to the handling of their wet waste stream such as sealant and water-based liquids. These liquids will be transported to our blending platform, situated at the Vlakfontein hazardous waste landfill site, where the liquids will be converted to an alternative fuel for thermal processes,” he adds.

We all want to see a South Africa with zero waste to landfill, cleaner and safer communities, financially viable and stable management of waste, and to allow our natural systems to regenerate for future generations.

“Businesses should not shy away from this opportunity as it has been proven that establishing a circular economy provides economic benefits by not only reducing waste but simultaneously fostering business growth and job prospects. The goal of these changes is to sever the relationship between economic growth and the use of natural resource, so that our global economic prosperity is not irrevocably linked to environmental degradation,” says Tootla.

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