Managing resources is a key topic for the waste sector but there are many aspects to it as a concept. Paul Frith, director of Frith Resource Management, and chair of the Midlands Centre of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management takes a look at some of the issues involved.
Everything we throw away is a lost resource, so are we managing our resources and our waste in the best way? And if not how can we get there?
These are fundamental questions for the environmentally conscious individual, employer, councillor and local government officer. Central Government can set the framework to deliver improved ‘resource management’ and Brexit presents an opportunity to do this at a national level with more flexibility – but this article focuses on the other players and the resources themselves.
So why bother to manage our resources and waste in the best way at all? One key reason is that we use a far wider range of materials now than in the past – 100 years ago most products across the world comprised of only 12 different raw materials, today one computer chip alone can have over 60 different elements in it. Resources will run out, demand is skyrocketing, as shown in the adjacent graph.
And as the phrase goes ‘those that believe exponential growth can continue forever is either a madman or an economist’.
The recycling of the elements used in products is patchy, and most of the rare earths we use in our everyday high tech products run at less than a 1% recycling rate – almost all are thrown away or burnt, an exercise in ‘Bad riddance to Good rubbish’.
Not only does this make us vulnerable as businesses to price hikes and international markets, but it also makes us vulnerable as a nation to strategic trade barriers. The prime sources of key minerals are usually from across the globe rather than being close to the UK or Europe as a whole.
Each player has an important role in the chain from the materials extraction to the consumer. So, with the front end of the chain usually outside of the UK, householders, local decision makers and businesses have a role to play.
The householder has a responsibility to our current generation and those to come to think about what we consume, and whether there is an alternative service, preferably without waste that could replace the item.
Resources deplete with each purchase, and when an item does become redundant, if it can still be used, try and find a route for that re-use (ebay, charity shop, item take back service, freegle etc.), or if not put that item in the correct container for recycling (whether at the civic amenity site or collection service) – this includes small electrical items which can often contain a diverse range of elements as outlined above.
The councillor and local government officer has a responsibility to facilitate good resource management through the collections available, through signposting to other services and through policies, education and targets to drive improvements. Bad waste management costs money, disposal is generally the most expensive option, so councils in these stretched times do have an incentive (provided contracts align to this principle) to manage waste in a better way.
Unfortunately the same cannot be always be said of resource consumption. This is only priced too high by the market when supply levels become critical, when from an environmental viewpoint, it could be too late.
The Business owner has a responsibility to do both of the above: decisions in purchasing and in the running of their business and facilitation of the management of the waste.
Procuring good waste management contractors that can accept different waste streams and utilise their resource value is an important step – small efforts and lateral thinking for niche waste streams (batteries, toners for example) can also make a big environmental impact. Empowering an individual or team within the company to lead on environmental aspects is good for the individuals, the company and the world!
There is no time like the present and for our precious resources – the time is Now!