Waste – what is it and how can we reduce it?

I’ve always had an interest in the environment, how we use, interact with it, and depend on it to live. This is what led me towards ‘sustainability’. I started a masters in Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University to bring about a positive change for sustainability during my two years on the programme (and beyond). As part of this, I’ve identified a ‘personal leadership opportunity’:

to understand and reduce waste in my business.

When I’ve asked my friends, family and colleagues what they think sustainability is, they usually refer to recycling, thinking about and reducing how much they buy, and being more efficient with water and energy. This all links back to a common theme – waste.

It also seems that the world is finally waking up to the horror that waste, specifically plastic, is waging on the environment. Since 2015:

  • the UK introduced a 5p charge for all single-use plastic carrier bags from large shops;
  • Sir David Attenborough brought the threat of marine plastic pollution into the nation’s living rooms with the Blue Planet II series;
  • China banned imports of “foreign garbage” this year, putting the UK under significant pressure to find new ways to deal with its mountains of (recycling) waste produced each year;
  • a ban was introduced on the manufacture of products containing microbeads;
  • MPs turned their attention to disposable coffee cups and demanded a new 25p tax on every one used;
  • the UK Government released its 25 year environmental strategy which aims to “eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042”;
  • Britain’s 10 biggest supermarkets announced what they were doing to combat plastics; and
  • in the past week, a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles and cans has been proposed for the UK.

As a responsible consumer and aiming to become more sustainable, I already minimise the amount of waste I produce including recycling as much as possible, using reusable bottles, only getting the things I need and trying to buy items with the least amount of packaging. However, I want to be able to make a bigger difference. As well as consumers, encouraging industries and businesses to recycle and reduce waste is equally important.

So how do I make a positive change for sustainability with and for my business?

Personal leadership opportunity

Understanding how the business manages its waste and the attitudes of employees towards waste and recycling is essential in determining how to reduce the large volumes of waste produced. Being able to promote these actions with employees will also help motivate and improve behaviours in managing waste at home.

Since my first workshop in Cambridge, I’ve started on my leadership opportunity by trying to understand what waste is, our waste streams, identify how we measure all our waste, where we record this data, how we collate, present and examine it, and ultimately how we can use this data to help the business become more sustainable. Lets see how I can help my business become more sustainable and positively contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production.


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