Working together towards net zero carbon

27th April 2021 Posted by

What is the waste sector’s role in delivering net zero carbon? How do we reduce our own and our customers’ carbon footprint? Recently, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK hosted a three part-webinar series to answer these very questions. In this blog, we discuss the outcomes and key learnings from the webinar as we continue to work with suppliers, customers and government to achieve our net zero goal.

To decarbonise the waste and resource management sector we need to take a holistic view of the value chain and of the system, as actions will impact carbon emissions elsewhere rather than remove these. Prevention is better than cure and we should focus on where we can have the greatest impact – at source.  If we focus on avoiding or minimising waste in the first place, we can go a significant way towards reducing carbon emissions across the value chain. Only then should we should focus on how we handle and manage this waste in a way which minimises the carbon impact in-line with the waste hierarchy, maximising the recycling and recovery (electricity and heat generation) from the waste, which in turn will allow downstream consumers of these to reduce their carbon footprint.

To this end, it is equally important to differentiate between the carbon generated by our operations in managing waste for our customers and those arising from our own actions and choices. By doing this we can then identify areas of opportunity and work with our customers and supply chain to make the necessary interventions and changes.

Time to act

The initial webinar set the tone for the series as there was a clearly aligned message that, regardless of the current or incoming policy landscape, action is required now to drive change and reduce carbon emissions across the sector. Taking an ‘act, measure, refine’ approach to carbon reduction was favoured while the tools for measurement and reporting are standardised. The consensus from the webinar audience was there should be enforced policies to restrict and compel businesses to reduce carbon outputs. However, this will not work without significant education and empowerment. We must also explain why, with context, so that the restrictions are understood and informed choices are made. A view supported by our audience with 58% opting for ‘educate and empower’ over ‘restrict and compel’.

Ultimately, our carbon output is impacted by the buying decisions we make – not only what we buy but how we use it. It is widely accepted that the best option is prevention, to stop buying things, however this is not always realistic. We must consider the levers we can pull in the other stages of the waste hierarchy to reduce waste and improve the carbon footprint of the materials handled, through giving them second lives, embracing reuse and opting for refill solutions wherever possible.

In our first session, Iain Ferguson from Co-op shared the commercial perspective, including how encouraging waste to be designed out of products and packaging by choosing materials with a lower carbon burden and high recycling potential, reduces the carbon burden of the retailer and consumer too. However, there are constraints such as product shelf-life that may need to be factored into effective packaging design. Local authorities may be able to reduce residual waste collection frequencies or container sizes, as highlighted by Owain Griffiths from WRAP. This has delivered great results with increased recycling and food waste recycling accompanying a reduction in the volume of residual waste. Both of these approaches rely on an element of enforcement over personal choice, as ‘high carbon’ options would not be available, so the choices left are all better than current options.

Working together

By collaborating across the value chain decarbonisation can be maximised by removing ‘carbon-additive’ processes, but this can only be done by working together – with suppliers, customers, communities and other stakeholders. Eighty five per cent of our audience are already collaborating with their supply chains, all of whom will have restrictions on what they can influence or deliver in isolation, and many (74%) already have a net zero plan which aligns their value chain. These changes can deliver a seismic shift in overall carbon production.

We have delivered some excellent results working collaboratively with our commercial customers, as Martin Casey from CEMEX described in the second webinar. Co-processing solid recovered fuel (SRF) for energy recovery with recycling, instead of using coal at the cement works, delivers a 87% reduction in carbon burden (2015/16).

Focusing on our public sector customers, Stuart Hayward-Higham, Technical Development Director, has modelled waste data for local authorities in England to show what they may be able to achieve in terms of recycling volumes. The model factors in rurality, demographics and collections streams and methods in-use, and draws comparisons with similar local authorities to provides insight on the steps required to reach 2030 targets.

Not only working with our customers but our suppliers, Alan Butcher from Lyreco shared news of how SUEZ have reduced paper consumption by 30% during the first lockdown and moved to a fully recycled option for all its paper products. Plus, by switching to electronic duty of care and driver tickets, SUEZ have saved 230,000 A4 pieces of paper and 46,000 envelopes. This has not only saved £56k/year, but reduced carbon emissions by 4.5 tonnes (CO2). Equally impressive is the work carried out with Supatrak where driver behaviour, vehicle data, an energy efficient driving index and weekly debriefs are all being utilised to ensure operations do not exceed the target of 1.23 tonnes of carbon emissions per vehicle, per year. SUEZ has also removed diesel cars completely from their company car policy and taken over 120 orders for electric company cars. Further initiatives include LED lighting, employee engagement, aligning remuneration to sustainability initiatives, raising awareness, creating a sustainability champion network, introducing a sustainable business travel policy and using AI to spot non-conforming wastes, preventing blockages and downtime at facilities.

Who is responsible for decarbonisation?

Decarbonisation of the waste and resource management sector is a long, winding road with many stages, and many see the successful move from landfill as the start of this journey – proof that our industry has been working collaboratively on this for the last 20 years. But the problem is bigger than any one sector or group of individuals.

Emma Beale from the West London Waste Authority argued that while householders are key to the decarbonisation agenda (from consuming less, changing their transport patterns, and recycling more etc.), we all must play our part: from product designers, brands and manufacturers, to buyers, retailers, procurement managers and waste managers – and sector needs to engage with all parties to achieve decarbonisation and to plan for it holistically.

The second webinar in the series featured a strong call for each sector (whether it be agriculture, chemical, manufacturing, food & drink or transport) to join forces and unite under a strategy that encourages collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation in line with the fundamental goal of delivering net zero carbon by 2050. This way, each organisation can understand fully what other parties are working on, see how they can help each other, and reflect on how this might impact what you are doing now and in the future.

Stronger together

In the final session of the series, we learned that 85% of our audience are already engaging with their supply chains and working on decarbonising their operations, with focused efforts split between consumables (37%), energy supply (30%), and transport fleet (33%). Many of these are using traditional procurement operations (52%) whilst a significant 41% are looking for co-solution or partnership opportunities to drive new innovations after reflecting what has been seen deliver the most benefits.

Having demonstrated our work on delivering practical solutions to reducing carbon we hope that other organisations will feel empowered to take action, considering all stages of the waste hierarchy. They may be small steps individually, but together they are having a big impact on our carbon footprint and are motivating our people to suggest other ideas and initiatives.

Much can be gained by raising awareness among employees and listening to feedback, giving context and insight across all areas of the business, while also empowering and engaging your team. We were pleased to hear that over 75% of our audience are making plans for net zero carbon delivery within the next 5-10 years.

Throughout the three sessions the message has been consistent: our sector is very much engaged with the decarbonisation journey and understands that we must act now. Equally important is the recognition from the panellists and audiences that, to really make the step change needed, we must have input from beyond our traditional sector, transparency and openness along our value chain, and embrace the spirit of collaboration and co-creation in order to maximise all of our decarbonisation efforts. It really will take everyone working together if we are to make net zero carbon a reality.

If you would like to watch any of the sessions, you can register for free, instant access here.


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