The 4Rs - reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery
Businesses are being forced to change the way they manage waste. Faced with regulations, public pressure, landfill shortages and the need for increased resource efficiency, companies are moving away from the waste treatment approach and towards waste prevention.
A number of waste prevention techniques are available, and they are commonly summarized as the so-called 4Rs: reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery.
Reduction, reuse and recycling are known in the industry as the 3Rs. Companies sometimes focus only on the first three in resolving waste management problems. In more innovative companies, 4Rs solutions often emerge as a result of industry benchmarking or technological breakthroughs.
The Canadian government has interpreted the waste management hierarchy as follows:
Empirical evidence suggests that by practising waste prevention, reusing products, recycling, and making environmentally conscious purchases, businesses can cut costs and increase profits. Cost savings take the form of:
For example, Smith & Vandiver Inc. of Watsonville, California, manufactures and distributes natural-ingredient toiletries and body care products. To minimize packaging waste, it reuses boxes in which it has received shipments by recutting the cardboard into smaller cartons. Its waste reduction program has enabled the company to reduce its inventory of shipper cartons, saving both storage space and $20,000 a year in material costs.
In China, organic waste from thousands of small straw pulp mills is used as agricultural fertilizer.
Kraft General Foods in Tulare, California manufactures processed and natural cheese, and pre-baked bread shells. Its waste reduction program has not only reduced solid waste disposal fees, but generates some $40,000 a year from the sale of recyclable materials.
In Kalundborg, Denmark, a coal-fired power station, an oil refinery, a plasterboard factory, a pharmaceutical plant and the municipality have created an 'industrial symbiosis' by exploiting each other's waste streams. (See 'Kalundborg' case study.)
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