· 2 min read · Features

Changing perceptions in the waste management industry

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In a recent interview with Mike Walters, John Lewis Partnership’s waste and recycling manager, he ­predicted that in 20 years’ time there will be no such thing called “waste”.

 

­Instead there will be “end-of-first-life materials”, meaning our rubbish will no longer simply be thrown on to a landfill site but will have some further future use. 

Whether or not his prediction comes true, there is no doubt we are thinking about waste in totally different ways these days, and are steadily moving to a closed-loop economy in which waste is either recycled or turned into energy. That’s why there’s never been a more ­urgent or exciting time to be involved in the recycling and waste industry, and why Simply Waste Solutions has thrived in the past couple of years. 

For many of today’s businesses, it is now the norm to understand how they use resources (energy, materials, and water) and to search out ways in which they can become more resource-efficient and produce less waste. Moreover, businesses must be seen to be actively delivering environment improvement as a core part of business strategy, influencing product design, improving supply-chain efficiency, and helping ­re-use and recycling at end of first life. This is likely to reduce costs, improve competitiveness and could provide a helpful differentiator in the minds of customers.

It wasn’t that long ago that more than 90% of our waste was landfilled. Clearly, this wasn’t sustainable and, aside from contamination of the land and the harmful and dangerous methane and CO2 gases the waste mountain generated, sites were filling up fast. A solution was needed and measures are now gradually being put in place to divert waste away from landfill and to encourage it to be turned into a valuable resource. The target, set by the EU, is that all member states should be recycling 50% of their waste by 2020. Although the UK is on track, at 39%, many poorer EU countries have yet to break into double figures.

To meet this challenge, our industry is being forced to become more agile and progressive by introducing new practices and investing in ever-new technologies. Most importantly, the industry needs a new mindset and a workforce with new skills. The adage “where there’s muck there’s brass” has never been truer. The UK waste management industry is worth more than £8 billion, employs about 130,000 people and is estimated to be growing at more than 20% a year. 

Environmental management touches every part of our home and work life and the past perception that waste management is an old and dirty industry is changing rapidly. Witness the ­increasing number of university graduates who are entering the sector. However, as a developing industry, the talent pool is relatively small. Although this offers plenty of opportunities to bring new blood into the sector, previous experience is high on the list of requisite skills.

We, like other companies in this rapidly growing sector, need to do more to attract the best candidates. Our vision appeals to many candidates, but we still need to offer rewarding roles with a strong career path. It’s not enough for our employees just to be empowered; they also want to be immersed in the industry’s most exciting new technologies and in contact with pioneering customers. 

James Capel is managing director of Simply Waste Solutions