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With sustainability becoming increasingly important to our clients as well as hard costs, what can we learn?

Product: Single Use Cups

Sectors: Hospitality, Education, Other

Whether it’s the ubiquitous takeaway coffee cup or variants such as wax coated or polystyrene, single use cups have presented one of the biggest challenges to the recycling industry. Chains such as Starbucks have taken the initiative to try and reduce the number of cups they serve by giving incentives for customers with re-usable cups but the numbers are still staggering. The problem is the mix of materials. While finally there is equipment available to separate the cup and the liner, that comes at a cost. Now the challenge is to separate the cups which can be recycled from other waste – ‘easy’ at the coffee shop outlet, but not so easy in stations, schools and offices.

Product: Medium Density Fibreboard

Sectors: Manufacturing, Home Improvement

For years, Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) has been the go-to material for kitchen cabinets in the budget, mid-market and surprisingly for top end kitchens, as well as many other domestic and commercial applications. The problem with disposal, though, is that paints and adhesives stop conventional equipment from recovering the fibres and making new board or insulation products. Right now, there is a process to recycle MDF, but the level of investment needed to roll it out has prevented it from making more than a very small dent in our 350,000 tonnes of MDF waste.

Product: Mattresses

Sectors: Hospitality, Care, Retail

Recent data shows that 167,000 tonnes of mattresses are sent to landfill or are incinerated every year, with only 16% of this major waste stream being recycled. In fact, most of the components of a mattress are recyclable, but the problem is their complicated construction and the mix of materials, means recycling can only be carried out by hand. Retailers may offer to take away the old mattress, but with transport already costly, it is more likely they will end up feeding an ‘Energy from Waste’ plant and warming our homes rather than the components being put to a new use.

Product: Fast Food Packaging

Sector: Hospitality

Why does the market leading burger chain trumpet recycling of plastics and paper cups, but stay very quiet about burger boxes and pouches for fries? While the current boxes themselves may have good environmental credentials, they become contaminated with grease, mustard and ketchup which can’t be economically removed for recycling. Burger King have started to trial reusable plastic boxes in some of its US outlets which can be washed, sanitised and used again. That’s a huge ‘re-use’ gold star if they can roll it out across the globe.

Product: Black Plastic Pots

Sectors: Retail, Other

Here’s an item which can be recycled quite easily, but very often gets diverted to landfill or Energy from Waste in spite of all good intentions. In much the same way that astronomers can’t see black holes (although they know they are there), the lasers which are used to sort material at a MRF (Materials Recycling Facility) can’t ‘see’ the black plastic. New technology is improving recognition, but in the meantime, the solutions are to reduce the quantity by switching to another colour (check your local garden centre or supermarket for new colours), or to separate black from other colours at source and return it separately for recycling into industrial fibres or consumer goods.

Product: Paper Towels and Napkins

Sectors: Hospitality, Office, Care

You can always recycle paper – or can you? Not in this case, and that’s for three main reasons – hygiene, contamination (grease, food etc) which can’t be removed, but also one of the reasons the product may have been bought in the first place – because it is made from recycled material. Multiple recycling leaves the paper fibre so fragmented that it can’t be recycled again. While it may be suitable to compost, there are limited facilities in the UK, so the destination is usually landfill, or Energy from Waste.

Our case studies show the importance of investment and segregation, in particular – finding the right strategy. At Auditel, our aim is to help clients meet their environmental objectives as well as reducing costs. That means helping businesses to consume less, re-use more, recycle more effectively and minimise the costs which relate to the difficult wastes which are left at the end of the process.


Article by: Martin Wallis

As seen in Issue 7 of The Bottom Line