Operational Waste Production

Key takeaways

  1. In your analysis, you should report on different waste categories and show how such specific types of waste are harmful to human health or ecosystems if not disposed of properly.

  2. Be critical of waste reduction initiatives and try to assess their absolute impact. Make sure to go beyond remediation.

  3. Find tangible equivalents that will enable to picture/relate to the amount of waste produced.

  4. Keep in mind that reported operational waste only gives one side of the coin: most companies also have high levels of associated waste with product use (fashion, consumer goods etc.) - similar to Scope 3 for GHG emissions; however, this should be treated in a separate analysis.

What is it?

Waste production is ”the production of unwanted materials as a by-product of economic processes.”

Companies all produce waste through their operations.


Some possible impact of waste production include:

  • Discharges into water: the release of unwanted waste material into water systems. This includes point discharges, such as sewer pipes, distributed discharges, such as fertiliser runoff, and industrial spills - more in the article water discharge pollution.

  • Emissions into air: the release of unwanted waste into the air. This includes combustion by-products from cars, factories, and power plants. This also includes the release of volatiles from manufacturing processes — more in the article Air pollutants.

  • Releases into soils: the release of unwanted waste directly into or onto the soil. This includes industrial spills, fertilisers, etc.



Sources

https://www.hq.nasa.gov/iwgsdi/Waste_Poduction.html#:~:text=3.1.,by%2Dproduct%20of%20economic%20processes

https://sisu.ut.ee/waste/book/11-definition-and-classification-waste (image)

SDG choice

SDG 12

(or others, depending on the impact)

Impact assessment

In your analysis, you must first look at the company’s overall waste production. Most companies now report this information in their CSR/Sustainability annual report. Make sure to report the most recent year. Yearly waste produced should be expressed in tonnes and its multiples.

Then, mention what type of waste they produce, as they have different impacts on the environment and/ human health, and note the effects of the relevant waste category.

As the scale of the impact lies with the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or disposed of through unsustainable methods such as incineration, you should also specify waste recovery percentage compared to landfilled waste.

You may mention the waste reduction initiative the company has put in place. However, this should be secondary to the company’s current impact (i.e. total waste produced). Your analysis should not be based on the company’s remediation efforts.

Finally, you may compare the company’s waste production with the industry average or a close competitor if that number is not available. You may also compare tangible amounts such as average individuals’ annual waste consumption this waste represents.

In your analysis, make sure you add value to your readers and go beyond the company’s CSR report by not merely reporting data from the company’s report, but going the extra mile of providing additional metrics, studies, and sources to make your analysis robust and the impact value and scale are clear.


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