In today’s competitive environment, manufacturers need to take advantage of every opportunity to reduce cost and environmental impact. One area which offers increasing opportunities for commercial and environmental improvement is waste management. Neil Brown, technical director, The Hygiene Group, discusses how to maximise potential in this area

Companies which were previously spending hundreds of thousands of pounds each year on waste disposal are now able to access cost-effective support from specialist suppliers providing training, products and services which deliver a real financial return by treating waste as a resource – rather than a nuisance.

The focus of modern waste management is on reducing landfill and vehicle movements, while increasing the amount of items being recycled – with the cost of the recycled items in many cases to be rebated to the customer.

Modern pumping systems, for example, have been designed which can chop up anything up to the size of a chicken carcass and then pass it through a tube into a sealed container for processing into animal feeds. Meanwhile, aerobic and anaerobic digestion systems can be used to create saleable by-products in the form of compost, gas, or animal feed additives. Animal bones, carcasses and hides can be rendered down into tallow which can be burned to heat other by-products to create either animal feeds or peat-free compost – effectively a self-sustaining system using waste. And even many soiled plastics can now be industrially washed and recycled rather than being sent to landfill.

However, the financial and environmental benefits of these systems are only achievable if the streaming of waste – on-site sorting and processing – is effectively managed and carried out.

While innovation in recovery and processing techniques means that soiled cardboard can now be effectively recycled, its value is still several times less than that of dry, clean cardboard – meaning that even one soiled box among its clean counterparts can dramatically reduce the price a supplier is willing to pay for it.

Meanwhile, waste types such as paper, animal by-products, vegetable raw materials and general product waste only retain their value if not contaminated by other types.

Furthermore, on-site waste processing equipment, such as compressors, compactors and balers, if not properly used or correctly maintained, can itself be a source of contamination to the waste, again impacting on its value. Water ingress is far from uncommon, while various types of dirt can also be introduced.

Meanwhile, these machines are also prone in some instances to leaking food waste on to the floor. Even if kept outside, as they often are, this leakage can propagate mould growth. Far more worrying, though, is the increased attractiveness of the site to rodents and insects and the possibility of local infection which can be tracked back into the facility and so into products being manufactured. In these instances, the potential costs financial and reputational – do not bear thinking about.

The issue is complicated by the fact that few, if any, production facilities produce enough waste to employ an individual or team full-time on the streaming task. It is therefore generally undertaken on an occasional or part-time basis by in-house production staff who may have limited interest or knowledge of the rigorous requirements in the area of waste separation. And the process is rarely well supervised as manufacturers are unwilling to commit supervisory resources to it.

An alternative for companies is to work with a specialist contract cleaning supplier which, as well as providing a fully trained and dedicated cleaning resource, can supply staff well versed in waste management processes who can also keep an eye on the condition and maintenance requirements of on-site machinery to ensure opportunities for contamination and leakage are minimised. Invariably there will be either a contract manager of supervisor stationed on site.

Many specialist cleaning suppliers have established partnerships with waste management companies to offer a complete solution in this area and maximise the return from recycling.

The supplier will guarantee to save the customer a certain amount by streaming, collating, removing and selling waste on – revenue only ­achievable by a supplier working on behalf of a number of companies locally creating between them a significant amount of waste. This approach plays a role in reducing road miles and the number of trips to landfill sites.

Companies which embrace a strategic approach to waste management can reap real commercial rewards through enhanced environmental performance, reduced costs relating to landfill and transport, and optimising the level of rebates achieved from recycling.