Is it Actually Achievable to get to Net Zero?

Zero Waste solutions form an integral part of the global response to climate change and the race to net zero. Net Zero Waste focuses on reducing, reusing and recovering as much waste as possible by implementing waste management solutions that minimise the amount of waste sent to landfills. The burning question is how attainable is Zero Waste to Landfill in practice?  

Zero Waste to landfill is achievable in certain situations, but for the vast majority of sites, the answer is “no”, at least, not in our current economic situation with our current value chains. More often than not, companies simply externalize their impacts in their Zero Waste to Landfill journey. For example, sites often consider that taking their dry mixed recycling waste off-site to a materials recovery facility (MRF) is seen as Zero Waste to Landfill, when in fact the materials recovery facility only has a 60% – 70% diversion of waste from landfill.  

The other item to consider is the law of diminishing returns. Depending on the recycling market, it is often easily achievable to get to 60% recycling with the standard paper, plastic, metal and glass grades. Because of economics, any other solution will likely cost more than disposal to landfill so increasing recycling performance will come with a premium. The concept is illustrated below as the marginal cost (MC) following the law of diminishing returns. At most of our sites, we are currently at the lowest cost. Interventions to improve the output (in this case the recycling performance) will only increase the marginal cost. 

Law of diminishing returns

diagram of law of diminishing returns

Should Net Zero even be a target?

We believe that the Zero Waste to landfill is a journey supported by data. We first need to understand what is being sent to landfill and then figure out better things to do with it. At Don’t Waste we understand that waste audits are a critical starting point to improve further (Read: Do you know what’s in your waste stream?). There are many insights which can be gleaned from an audit which will inform what the best zero waste solutions might be, and those solutions may speak to procurement, tenant solutions or source separation. Net Zero Waste should certainly be the aim but, it may not ever be achievable.  

IN WHICH CIRCUMSTANCES IS ZERO WASTE ACHIEVABLE?

The two examples where Zero Waste is actually achieved is when the organic waste is processed with an alternative and the inorganic waste is either turned into construction material with a polymer, or, sent to a brick kiln for use as refuse derived fuel. These solutions are not available to all sites depending on proximity to these organic and inorganic solutions and the carbon footprint of the transport and these alternatives need to be factored in to see whether these alternatives are environmentally friendly.  

As our #DontWasteTime campaign draws to a close, it is our hope that the Conference of Parties (COP26) accelerates the urgent climate action needed across all stakeholders to achieve Net Zero. Don’t Waste can support your Zero Waste Journey by providing transparent data-driven insights into your waste streams and recommendations for zero waste solutions. We ensure that transparency is at the forefront of your Zero Waste to landfill journey and provide waste management solutions that are aligned to your sustainability strategy.  

#DontWasteTime take action and start your Zero Waste Journey today.  

Linus Naik: Group Sustainability and Business Development Manager (

 

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