In England alone, the commercial and industrial sectors generated a staggering 33.8 million tonnes of waste in 2020. Just over 50% of all the waste produced is recycled or recovered in some way – but this still represents an enormous use of resources. With awareness of the need to reduce how much we use and waste increasing, we share some tips for businesses that want to take action. 

What are the benefits of reducing waste? 

From a local café that can turn spare ingredients into new products to sell, to large office buildings that can cut their energy bill, businesses of every size can benefit from reducing waste. 

As well as cutting costs both from buying unnecessary materials and paying to have rubbish and recycling collected, reducing waste shows you’re committed to positive environmental action. This could increase your appeal with consumers, employees and other businesses that care about sustainability.  

What counts as waste? 

The Carbon Trust’s information about their Zero Waste to Landfill Certification explains that in practice, waste refers to “anything that is thrown away or sent for recovery or recycling”. However, this definition can be made more complex by the fact that some businesses will choose to include by-products of their main activities in their waste processes, and others won’t.  

For the purposes of this article, we will share tips about reducing waste that your business may have immediate control over. For example, energy, food and materials used or produced on your premises, or as part of your direct business operations. We will also point you towards case studies about businesses and social enterprises that are taking more radical action to shift from a linear process of extracting, using and discarding resources to a circular, more sustainable one. 

How to save energy and carbon emissions 

To reduce running costs and your carbon footprint, make sure that you’re not using energy unnecessarily. Ways to reduce consumption include: 

  • Installing energy efficient LED lighting on sensors, so they automatically switch off when not needed 
  • Rely on natural heating and cooling as far as possible, for example with reactive windows that open and close automatically to keep the building at a set temperature 
  • Having an efficient water boiler for hot drinks, if you have a larger team. For example, an instant hot water tap or urn.  
  • Explore on-site energy generation, such as installing solar panels and battery storage.  

Depending on how extensive your carbon tracking is, you could also include employee commuting in your waste reduction actions. For example, hybrid working in which employees can work at home at least part of the time means less energy used commuting. Or, you could support employees to commute in sustainable ways such as by public transport, by bike, or by providing EV charge points. 

How to reduce material waste 

This category could include things like plastic, paper, packaging, furniture, IT equipment and more.  

  • Plastic: read our article all about reducing, reusing and recycling plastic 
  • Packaging: choose packaging made out of easily recyclable materials 
  • Furniture: try to choose long lasting goods made out of sustainable materials. If you’re revamping the office, find older furniture a new home by either giving or selling to employees, or donating to charity. 
  • IT equipment: as above, can older equipment such as laptops or monitors be sold or donated if it’s no longer needed? Or, can you use a specialist electronics recycling service to make sure it doesn’t end up in landfill? 

How to reduce food waste 

  • If food waste is collected by your local authority, install compost bins in the office for staff to use 
  • Clearly mark different types of waste bins so staff can recycle more easily. Marking general waste as ‘to landfill’ can help people realise that all waste will end up somewhere and may influence changes in behaviour. 

How to see waste differently 

 “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, as they say. Many UK businesses have found innovative ways to turn by-products and waste into new revenue streams. For example, generators like Fre-energy use waste from their farm to generate renewable biogas using anaerobic digesters, which they then sell to Good Energy. The process also creates a nutrient rich ‘digestate’ that can be put back on the fields as fertiliser. 

“It’s an absolutely superb closed-loop system” 

  • Denise, Fre-energy 

Anaerobic digestion is also being used by some businesses to turn food waste collected by local authorities into renewable energy. 

Circular thinking 

Some businesses go beyond reducing waste in their existing operations. Instead, they are set up with the goal to reduce, reuse and recycle resources – or tackle the problem of waste created by other businesses. 

For example, Toast Ales brews beer using leftover bread and yeast from bakeries that it partners with. Rapanui makes t-shirts that are designed to be returned to them so that the cotton can be recycled into new clothing. Brands like Finisterre and Patagonia design long-lasting clothing using sustainable materials and provide services to repair them.  

And in an even more innovative example, social enterprise Onion Collective are setting up a biomill – a pilot research facility in which industrial and farm waste becomes a feedstock for growing mycelium. This is a type of fungus that can be used as a biomaterial in products such as natural, highly efficient insulation panels. 

More information about how to reduce waste in your business 

Go to the Carbon Trust and explore their Zero Waste to Landfill certification for more resources. You could also explore training provided by WRAP, a charity which supports businesses to use resources more sustainably.