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The importance of environmental stewardship

06 March 2019

Recycling has played a major part in the drive to become more environmentally conscious; for many members of the public, it represents the core way for them to ‘do their bit’ for the environment. However, we are all being called upon to go further, recycle more, reduce consumption and waste, and think more carefully about the impact of products we buy. For businesses, the issue is equally important and, as well as sustainability, the term environmental stewardship is becoming more common. 

Lorcan Mekitarian, sales director, RPC bpi refuse, explains more:

Environmental stewardship refers to the responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. More simply, it means considering the impact of our actions on the wider environment. Applied to the cleaning industry, this might mean responsible procurement, implementing effective recycling systems to avoid landfill, or managing plastics to divert them to responsible recycling systems that result in less plastic finding its way into the oceans. Use of chemicals and fuel needed for staff vehicles and transport of cleaning products would also have an impact. 

In business terms, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability has never been so important. Large organisations – and many smaller ones – have clear goals in place, and contractors that align with these principles will benefit in the tendering process. 

Sustainable goals

In 2015, the United Nations Member States adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which recognise that ending poverty must be tackled in conjunction with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth, all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. The goals include Life on Land, Life Below Water, Climate Action, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Sustainable Cities. Goal 12, which aims to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’, sets specific targets to manage wastes soundly throughout their lifecycle and to reduce waste by following the waste hierarchy.

Last year’s Circular Economy Package has also had an impact on wider business. The package, which has been adopted by all EU Member States and also by the UK, includes targets to recycle 65 per cent of household, and 75 per cent of packaging waste by 2030. 

Supporters of the circular economy maintain that new, circular ways of working could save companies £1 trillion by 2025 and create 100,000 jobs within five years. To be effective, the whole supply chain needs to be involved. Products must be designed for reuse or recycling, and procurement plays an important role. 

Plastic Pact

Over the last year, plastic has played an unprecedented role in the nation’s psyche. Following the airing of Blue Planet II, the public has been roused to action to address over-packaging, single-use items and lack of recyclability of some plastics. As a result, retailers, brands and other stakeholders have signed up to the UK’s voluntary Plastic Pact agreement, which sets challenging targets on areas such as including 30 per cent recycled material into products, and the recycling of all plastic packaging by 2030. 

RPC bpi recycled products has pioneered the responsible recycling of plastics, manufacturing them into useful, high quality products. As the largest recycler of waste polythene film in Europe – with an annual recycling capacity in excess of 150,000 tonnes at four Environment Agency, SEPA and NRW accredited sites – they are keen supporters of the Plastic Pact and its goals.

As well as manufacturing both the award-winning Green Sack range of 100% recycled plastic refuse sacks from waste agricultural film, and Plaswood –  a range of recycled plastic lumber products, the company has also achieved zero waste to landfill at three of its four manufacturing sites. This is no mean feat when the raw products – waste plastics – arrive with varying levels of contamination from other sources. In 2018, RPC bpi recycled products was awarded the ‘Plastics Recycling Business of the Year’ in the Awards for Excellence in Recycling and Waste Management. This was delivered through heavy investment in technology, adoption of circular economy principles, lowering the carbon footprint of the business, and reducing the volumes of waste sent to landfill. 

The most recent project development is a high performance, post-consumer plastic. Sustane provides manufacturers with a viable source of recycled material that performs equally against prime virgin polymers. It can be blended with other plastics to help plastic packaging producers meet their recycled material targets, or incorporated into completely new product designs. 

Make an impact

Although the cleaning industry does not manufacture products, it is still able to have an impact on the environment. Management of waste, chemical, fuel and energy usage all make a difference, in addition to putting green procurement policies in place.

On recycling, the first step is to encourage clients to support the scheme and engage with staff at all levels. The removal of desk bins and installation of centralised, communal bins can help to incentivise participation, while training of all cleaning operatives – and clear instruction that recycling systems must be upheld – also helps to ensure success.

For recycling to be viable, end markets are critical. Recycled refuse sacks utilise waste plastics that are not suitable for food grade applications, so they are an important cog in the environmental stewardship machine.

Environmental stewardship is important for all of our futures. Whatever the business, it is worth remembering that no organisation acts in isolation, and we all have an effect – and responsibility to protect – our environment.