Operational Waste Production

Victoria Schoenlaub

8 min Read Time | August 10th 2021

Key Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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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 is disposed of through unsustainable methods such as incineration, you should also specify the 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.

If the company has reported only its hazardous waste, make sure to check whether the company states that they do not have any non-hazardous waste. If the company does not mention anything about non-hazardous waste, then a possible way to estimate its non-hazardous waste is to find the % share of hazardous waste within the industry and then apply this % to the subject company's hazardous waste as a proxy.

If the industry data is not available, then an alternative is to find the average % share of hazardous waste for 3 main competitors which are close in scale, and apply this average % to the subject company's hazardous waste as a proxy. The sentence must clearly express that it is an estimation.

To find the average % share of hazardous waste: Divide the hazardous waste of the competitor company by the total waste generated by that company (do this for each of the 3 main competitors) and take the average of those three % values.

Example (for Electrical and Electronic industry):

In 2020, Otis generated 94.3 t of hazardous waste and failed to disclose the non-hazardous waste

The average % of hazardous waste for 3 companies in the same industry are:

  • Kone 2.6% (1,200 t out of 46,400t)
  • Schindler 5.5% (2,319 t out of 41,826 t)
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 6.2% (9,000 t out of 146,000 t))

(2.6 + 5.5 + 6.2) / 3 = 4.8%

  • Based on the average % share of hazardous waste in the industry it can be estimated that Otis's total waste footprint in 2020 would be 1,965 t

(94.3*100%/4.8%) = 1,965 t

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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