World Environment Day: Measure and reduce emissions from waste

World Environment Day: Measure and reduce emissions from waste

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World Environment Day is one of the most critical global dates for the environment, celebrating and encouraging climate awareness and action to fight climate change. Initially established on the 5th of June 1973 and led by the United Nations, this year’s theme goes back to its roots using the same topic as its launch in 1973, fifty years ago: Only One Earth

2022 is a historic milestone for the global environmental community. It marks 50 years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, widely seen as the first international meeting on the environment. The 1972 Stockholm Conference spurred the formation of environment ministries and agencies around the world and kickstarted a host of new global agreements to collectively protect the environment. Each year, World Environment Day is hosted by a different country where the official celebrations take place. The host country for 2022 is Sweden - showcasing its work for the environment for the past decades.

World Environment Day: The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm
The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm
Credit: The United Nations

As nature cannot keep up with our demands, we are running out of time to save our planet - at this rate, we would need the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to maintain our current way of life. This is the message that the organisers of World Environment Day want to highlight.

We are running out of time to make amends, and that is why, at Plan A, enabling businesses to reach net-zero has been our mission since day one.  In celebration of World Environment Day, we will be focusing on waste. Waste management is one of the most overlooked and impactful aspects of a company - With a growing population, increased demand for goods, and consuming habits, tracking and managing waste has become a seemingly complicated issue. That is why Plan A has decided to measure and reduce its waste footprint. How? Our sustainability initiative team has implemented a solution to accurately measure and reduce all types of waste in our offices. We hope that our use case will inspire companies and individuals to do the same. 

The world of waste in data

  • According to Eurostat, waste is the fourth most significant source of emissions in the EU (food waste accounts for 10% of global GHG emissions). In 2050, the world will generate 3.4 billion tons of solid waste per year, representing a 70% increase.
  • Only 20% of the current global waste is recycled, the rest being sent to landfills or burnt (releasing GHG emissions in the process). 
  • Respectively, 100 companies are responsible for more than 90% of all global plastic waste, according to new research from The Plastic Waste Makers index.
  • Approximately 13 tons of hazardous waste is generated every second. Every year, that’s 400 million tons of dangerous waste → equal to the weight of 8 million adult whales
  • Over 9 million tonnes of electrical items have been disposed of—more than the weight of four Burj Khalifas (2.2 million tonnes), the tallest building globally.
The global waste composition Source: World Bank Data
The global waste composition Source: World Bank Data

Waste Management for companies: the Plan A method

It is no secret: waste management pertains to scope 3 emissions, category 5. As such it is part of the largest scope of emissions to monitor for a service company.  Knowing that only a fraction of companies reports on this scope, it is your opportunity to make a difference and lead the way for World Environment Day. Therefore, companies must disclose this primary source of emissions to accurately consider and cover all scopes of emissions.

Global treatment and disposal of waste Credit: World Bank Data

The waste challenge for World Environment Day: collect this trash data

Companies tend to focus on electricity, heating, or employee commuting and often forget about the waste generated during their operations to reduce their environmental impact. Waste comes in different shapes, colours and sizes: e-waste, hazardous, liquid, organic or solid waste is generated daily - and its effect on the environment worsens. Companies' bad waste management can be translated into high waste management costs, bad reputation, and economic sanctions - hence the importance and urgency of tackling our waste today.

The main challenge for companies is that waste data is the trickiest to collect and measure. For instance, the lack of available framework, adequate infrastructure, technology and resources makes it especially difficult for companies to collect reliable data - for example, it is not as easy as finding your electricity consumption on your bill. Also, waste management depends on so many stakeholders it is extremely challenging to collect quantitative or qualitative waste flow data. Companies need to develop in-house solutions to learn how to better measure their waste.

For each waste management problem, there is a solution

At Plan A, tracking our carbon emissions and reducing our generated waste is one of our top priorities. We are using our waste management module - allowing users to add and oversee operational waste data for different waste categories, giving insights into your Scope 3 Category 5 emissions.

Our green team started a conversation with stakeholders involved in collecting data to collect waste. After exploring diverse solutions, Ruiqi Li, our customer success associate, built a team of seven volunteers and organised weekly reflections. Thus, three times a week, our volunteering team weights the bins in the office and inputs the data into Plan A’s platform.

Our Sustainability Initiative team measures our waste daily
Our Sustainability Initiative team measures our office’s waste daily. Credit: Plan A

Ruiqi Lui explains: “We encountered a couple of challenges when trying to collect waste data through our landlord. This is why we decided to gather a group of Plan A volunteers to weigh and translate the volume of our waste bins into kilograms. We weigh the bins three times a week and keep track of how full the bin is. At the end of our experiment, we will develop an average weight number per person and the bin for each waste type. The goal is to share our experience with our customers and derive an advanced waste measurement plan for them.”

Tip: Do you not have the data? Create your average data by using an average weight per waste type for one person or an average weight per waste type per bin.

A small step for your company, a giant leap for the environment

This waste experiment that Ruiqi Li conducted at Plan A was enriching and provided many positive outcomes that your company can also benefit from.

Contrary to what people think, there was an overwhelming response to joining the waste squad, and everyone was very excited by the initiative. Our volunteering group is highly diverse: different departments, cultures, values and personalities, which brings new ideas to the table, creates awareness of the topic and makes the conversation more straightforward. It is also an excellent way to get to know new colleagues.

Once taking care of office waste, you become more conscious of your waste.

Ruiqi Li, Customer Success Associate at Plan A

On a company level, the waste collection initiative is the fastest way to make your organisation aware of its environmental impact while fast tracking sustainability, innovation, and automation. Once you know how your waste stream contributes to your carbon footprint, you will be able to start implementing strategies to reduce waste-related GHG emissions. This is an opportunity to impact BOTH carbon emissions and building waste significantly.

For World Environment Day, collect, measure, reduce and sort your waste

To highlight our climate action for World Environment Day, Ruqui Li from our sustainability initiative team has compiled a six steps process to collect and measure waste:

Step 1:
Ensure employees understand different waste types by posting relevant information near bins for plastic, paper, residual, glass and organic waste.

Step 2: Ask the cleaning staff/landlord about the frequency of their waste collection.

Step 3: If the cleaning staff cannot help, mobilise your green team!

Step 4: Collect and weigh the bins of each waste type in the office (weight the bin, but take off the initial weight of the container)

Step 5: Allocate and track your team’s responsibilities through a self-reporting sheet displayed in the office waste area.

Step 6: Check if it is possible to extrapolate the waste data from the observed months for the rest of the year (either via average weight of waste per person or via average weight of bins).

The benefits of waste management

World Environment Day is not the only day that companies should act. Companies successfully implementing waste management policy and action plans can expect the following benefits: 

  • Cost savings and cutting waste disposal costs
  • Meeting environmental regulations and finding new sources of revenue: you can sell your waste products to other companies to reuse and recycle.
  • Reduced environmental liability for your company & increase environmental awareness for stakeholders and employees
  • A boost to your business' image for being environmentally aware
  • Increased employee engagement and retention
  • Systematic control of your waste issues
  • Increased business opportunities - many large companies and government organisations won't work with a business that doesn't have a sustainability policy implemented.

This year's World Environment Day comes with the planet facing a triple crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Your company will showcase its environmental awareness and actions by tackling one of these most pressing issues: waste. Thus, your company will drastically reduce its carbon and waste footprint by measuring your waste while preserving our biodiversity.

Start your waste management today with Plan A.

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