New guidelines were introduced in 2011, that specified that organisations should apply a waste hierarchy system when dealing with and disposing of their waste. These rules suggest that all organisations who deal with waste should dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.

The reason for this is because of the linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model, which is system that relies on considerable amount of cheap and easily accessibly materials and energy, is beginning to reach its limitations.

Fortunately, action has already been taken. By 2020, as part of their Zero Waste Regulations, Scotland has placed a landfill ban on municipal biodegradable waste; in the UK, this is the first ban of its kind, which could see England and Northern Ireland following suit shortly afterwards.

Even though the UK’s efforts to cut food waste by 5% before 2016, food waste actually rose by 4.4% between 2012 and 2015. Now, the question still remains, how can the UK achieve a 0% rate of waste going to landfill? Reconomy, providers of 8-yard skip hire for domestic and commercial waste, explore whether this proposal can ever be achieved.

What is a zero-waste landfill
Zero waste to landfilling means that none of current waste streams arrive at a landfill. Instead, these materials may be recycled in different ways, reused or contribute energy from waste. If recycling is the method used, the materials involved are as follows:

  • Cardboard. This is recycled in a paper mill.
  • Glass. This is melted down and then created into new glass products and containers.
  • Plastic. This is recycled and made into new packaging.
  • Food. This waste is sent to be used as compost.
  • Organic material. This can be broken down through a process known as anaerobic digestion. This is the breakdown of organic material by micro-organisms when oxygen isn’t present. Such a method sees the methane-rich gas biogas being produced, which can then be used as a fuel and a digestate — a source of nutrients that is able to be used as a fertiliser.

Any other waste that cannot be recycled is recovered via energy from waste, in processes such as incineration and gasification.

To allow all of an organisation’s waste is recycled, audit trails will need to be established to guarantee that all materials have went to correct recycling facility. If they can’t be tracked, then the 0% landfill label cannot be attributed to that organisation’s waste, which is why tracking is so important within this process.

Although, tracking systems are often difficult to implement, and time-consuming to monitor. If they can’t be tracked, then the 0% landfill label cannot be attributed to that organisation’s waste, which is why tracking is so important within this process.

The benefits of a 0% landfill target
The thought of large-scale organisations to produce 0% waste is more of a dream rather than reality. For businesses, it is a benchmark to work towards.

As a long-term ambition the industrial processes, materials, business models, regulations and public infrastructures do not yet exist for this to be workable. This is, however, a two-way solution – as businesses need to eliminate their waste that comes from suppliers – whilst making sure that waste isn’t produced during manufacturing and when products and services are passed onto customers and clients.

Even during the process of energy, incineration produces waste from the ashes. Clearly, more needs to be done to innovate these processes for the future so that 0% landfill rates can be achieved in this lifetime.

Circular Economy help
Another way to reduce the strain on the ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model is with a circular economy.

A continuous development cycle is created ideally to be both regenerative and restorative in its design and aimed at keeping components, materials and products at the highest possible value and utility around the clock. As a result, natural capital can be enhanced and preserved, resource yields optimised, and system risks kept to a minimum through the management of finite stocks and renewable flows.

It’s quite beneficial to have a circular economy, it creates more energy from renewable sources and introduces diverse systems, which include multiple connections and scales that are more resilient in the face of external shocks when compare to systems purely made for efficiency. However, in the goal to achieving 0% landfill figures, a circular economy will mean that waste will not exist when a product’s biological and technical components are designed with the intention to always fit within a biological and technical materials cycle.

Across the globe, there have already been signed of circular economy and its principles. In the Netherlands, for example, around 16% of the new stream of products being introduced to the metal and electrical sectors were items which had either being repaired or reused. Further afield, China has been running mandatory energy saving and pollution reduction programmes nationwide since 2006. These are in place to address issues with what researchers in the country have referred to as ‘low resource efficiency’ and ‘high pollution levels’.