How can companies tackle Scope 3 waste emissions?

Environmental targets and obligations have become an increasingly important topic for boardrooms and businesses.

The UK Government has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, and many companies are already working hard to meet this goal. But while companies can introduce various measures to reduce emissions as part of a carbon reduction strategy, some aspects are harder to control than others.

The Three Scopes

Greenhouse gas emissions are split into three groups or ‘Scopes’ by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol – the international standard.

Most businesses will be familiar with Scope 1 and 2. Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Meanwhile, Scope 2 covers a company’s indirect emissions such as electricity, heating and cooling.

What you might know less about are Scope 3 emissions. That’s because they include all the other indirect emissions in a company’s value chain. This includes purchased goods and services, transport and travel, and waste disposal.

Businesses often have less visibility of these emissions because they are typically provided by third party suppliers. As a result, it’s also more difficult for businesses to directly influence them.

This creates a huge challenge. For businesses with complex supply chains, Scope 3 emissions can account for more than 70pc of their footprint, according to Deloitte. Although businesses might have less control of their Scope 3 emissions, they can still work with their suppliers to try to reduce them.

Working with your waste supplier to reduce emissions

Waste management sits squarely in Scope 3 under its own sub-category. It’s also an important one: the UK generates 222.9 million tonnes of waste a year, which accounts for just over 4% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. And global annual waste production is expected to grow by 29% by 2030 and by nearly 70% by 2050, according to an analysis by Allied Market Research.

While, ultimately, the only way to fundamentally reduce these figures is to reduce the UK’s overall consumption of resources, businesses still have an important part to play.

While there is some uncertainty around the data used to calculate Commercial and Industrial waste, figures show that England has gone from producing 33.1 million tonnes of waste in 2016 to 37.2 million tonnes in 2018 and 2019. This accounted for 19% of UK waste in 2018, far lower than the amount generated by the construction, demolition and excavation industry (62%), but higher than households (12%).

The value of a waste hierarchy

It’s possible for businesses to tackle their Scope 3 emissions and achieve a zero-waste landfill status on their sites if they have the right support.

Companies should implement a waste hierarchy to help reduce and reuse their waste, while proper segregation of waste can help towards improving recycling rates. In addition, many materials – from cardboard to precious metals – have value and generate income through rebates. This means that businesses can reduce their waste management cost through effective recycling.

As a leader in total waste management and recycling services, we’ve worked with several multi-sector businesses to reduce the environmental impact of their waste streams. Home appliance company, Whirlpool UK Appliances, is a leading example. For more than three years, Axil has been a total waste management partner, delivering a series of innovations to support the business’s waste recycling and reduction targets.

In that time, they have generated an 80% reduction in plastic use through on-site segregation, a 30% reduction in waste and achieved zero waste to landfill at Whirlpool’s Peterborough site and UK headquarters.

Rethinking waste management

The UK has a long way to go in addressing Scope 3 emissions. It is not an easy task, particularly for companies who have complex supply chains or work with raw materials, such as manufacturers. Reducing emissions and the amount of waste sent to landfill will require close collaboration between businesses and their suppliers.

Waste management companies should be transparent around how they are handling businesses’ waste, including what is being recycled and find ways to support them that go beyond “taking out the bins.”

Ultimately, we can only tackle Scope 3 waste emissions by working towards a more circular economy where incineration and disposal are the last resort.

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