Real Earth Solutions

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Design Principle 6: Produce No Waste

Is it really possible to Produce No Waste? This principle prompts us to design for zero or limited waste, right from the beginning of the process, and reminds us  ‘There is no waste, just unused resources’. Maybe it seems like a lofty but unobtainable vision, but if every household and business reduced their waste going to landfill, water and air pollution by even 10%, 50%, or as close to 100% as we can make it, imagine the benefits for people and the planet!

1. Circular Economy principles require that products and materials can be reused, recycled or bio-degraded safely back to a natural source (e.g., composted). The ‘Right to Repair’ movement is also demanding that items need to be repairable, rather than being rapidly disposed of and replaced. Design products and processes with the end in mind.

Packaging is a good example of where large improvements are both needed and possible. If your business produces packaging, utilises packaging, or purchases products that come in packaging, there are conversations to be had at every level to minimise waste.

In Australia in 2020–21:

  • 74 million tonnes of packaging were placed on market (POM)
  • 86% of packaging POM had good recyclability, but 35% was not collected or reprocessed
  • 44% of packaging POM was disposed to landfill

The 2025 National Packaging Targets apply to all packaging that is made, used, and sold in Australia. The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is the organisation charged by government to facilitate the delivery of the 2025 Targets, to be achieved by 31 December 2025.

The 2025 Targets are:

  • 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.
  • 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted.
  • 50% of average recycled content included in packaging (revised from 30% in 2020).
  • The phase out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging.

2. Your people are your most valuable resource. Every time an employee leaves your organisation you are losing experience and expertise, with associated loss of productivity, and incur the costs of training and induction for a replacement. You are also losing potential future leaders. Are you taking good care of your existing staff by ensuring a positive culture, safe workplace, and opportunities for training and advancement?

3. Waste to Landfill, Water and Air, including GHG’s

Are you overdue for a waste audit? Consider ways you can reduce your waste footprint, whether to landfill, or in the form of air or water pollution.  Not only are you adding pressure on the environment, chances are you are paying for disposal. Cleaning filters regularly could save a surprising amount of energy as well as reducing pollutants being released to the environment.

The spotlight is currently on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, with targets (in Australia) for 43% reductions (on 2005 levels) by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. Every business or organisation has an important part to play, and legislation is in process to mandate reporting obligations for the whole supply and value chain, expected to commence with the FY 24-25.

4. Capture waste resources on site and re-use them whenever possible. Can waste heat from manufacturing processes be harnessed to provide hot water or heat the buildings? Can waste water be used to water lawns, flush toilets, or provide habitat in a reed bed pond (while filtering out excess nutrients)? Can shredded office paper be used as packing fill instead of bubble wrap or beads?

5. On- Demand processes such as printing and textile production have the potential to reduce waste by only producing the items needed, when they are ordered. The fashion industry is a good example of over production of mass-market garments with one third of new garments going directly from factory to landfill. However, this technology has also seen a rise in the total number of garments being produced cheaply at scale, much of it polyester, and in facilities which fall short of meeting international Modern Slavery guidelines and conditions.

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