Product waste

Key takeaways

  1. Product waste is generated during/after consumer use. It is more relevant in some industries than others (fashion, consumer goods, technology, etc.).

  2. In your analysis, look at the company’s products to assess product waste type and its quantity.

  3. Report on the different categories of waste and demonstrate how these specific types of waste are harmful to human health or ecosystems if not disposed of properly (and perhaps even if it is).

  4. Find tangible equivalents that will enable you and reader to picture/relate the amount of waste produced.

What is it?

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

Companies all produce waste through their products. The consumer often bars the responsibility of discarding this waste. However, the company has part of the responsibility of its products’ impact, as it manufactured and/or sold it.

Some of the types of waste linked to companies’ products include:

  • Plastic waste

  • Hazardous waste

  • E-waste

  • Food waste

  • Textile waste

The waste associated with the company’s products can impact the environment by contaminating air, water and soil. Also, whether through direct exposure or environmental damage, this waste can also pose a risk to human health.

SDG choice

(or others, depending on the impact)

Impact assessment

In your analysis, you must first look at the overall waste associated with the company’s product or service. Total products sold might be available in the company’s CSR/Sustainability annual report, so check there first. Make sure to report the most recent year. Yearly hazardous waste produced should be expressed in tonnes and its multiples.

Make sure to mention what type of waste they are producing, as they have different impacts on the environment and/ human health. Then, be sure to describe what that particular impact on the environment/health is.

Describe the scale of the impact by taking into account:

1/ The breadth of the impact

  • Is the impact local, national, or global?

  • How many people are concerned? Thousands? Millions? Billions?

2/ The depth of the impact

  • Is the life of people concerned deeply affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

  • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society or the planet?

3/ The persistence of the impact

  • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

  • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?

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 use human-centric equivalents to compare the tangible amounts that 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.

If there is a clear impact on the local ecosystem, SDG 14 is more relevant. In that case, you should head to Aquatic Ecosystem Pollution.

Helpful sources

  • Breakfreefromplastics: an organisation actively bringing polluting companies accountable, with dozens of reports and infographics.

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