Sustainable Recycling: The Real Meaning of Recycling Innovation

All organisations must deal with their waste appropriately, but they shouldn’t stop at compliance. Smart organisations innovate by setting sustainable recycling targets that drive them towards best practice.

It’s easy to see how innovation makes its mark on a business’s product design and service delivery – but innovation in environmental best practice will also deliver benefits to their bottom line.

Going that extra mile with sustainability and recycling targets can transform your organisation, giving you a competitive advantage over others in your sector. It’s not as difficult as you might think to identify the projects that will allow you to get the best from what you’ve got.

Innovation can be daunting. But it doesn’t need to be – it can begin with the smallest of things.

From small beginnings

What truly counts as ‘innovative’?

The word conjures images of the discovery of DNA, the man on the moon, the rise of the iPod – huge projects that have become cultural touchstones. Most organisations aspire to make that kind of impact.

Big innovations often look after themselves because they are obvious – or because they produce an immediate, measurable return. But innovation can also be simple things that have far-reaching consequences for reducing, reusing and recycling your resources.

Reducing your capacity to dispose of waste is a small change that makes a big difference.

It’s easy and cost-effective to pull large volumes of resources out of general waste and into recyclable streams, but what about the smaller amounts? What about the paper and card that is ‘just easier’ for someone, by habit, to throw into the nearest bin?

Take that bin away, and they are compelled to think again. Innovate in the small things.

In offices, factories, distribution centres, and shops all over the world – even in businesses that produce so much recyclable paper and card that it forms a revenue stream for their business – we still see these materials finding their way into general waste.

Replace your bins with recycling stations and you’ve already made a difference. That's sustainable waste management.

Sustainable recycling means thinking outside the bin

But let’s not just think about waste when it’s there – what about before it’s produced?

It should be standard now for printers to print double-sided, but it was innovation the first time someone thought about it – and now how much paper does this save?

Does your workplace have a water cooler? What happens to all those plastics cups?

Sure, they could go in plastic recycling – but couldn’t they be replaced with personal water bottles or cups that are used more than once?

Small steps, but they all lead toward using resources efficiently.

That’s the difference between compliance and innovation. Putting a plastics recycling bin in place does what needs to be done – replacing use-once cups delves under the surface of the problem and questions why it arises in the first place.

Make the sustainable change

Innovation lies in that little bit of extra thought.

In an office environment, it’s easy to waste paper unless you make it easy to recycle. Communicate your message properly and your teams will take up your recycling goals – but how do you make sure that they maintain momentum?

The obvious answer is to supply them with statistics on their performance, so that they know how well they’ve done. But is that really going to get them enthused about recycling?

Statistics are important, but they’re impersonal. The way to speak to people is to understand what’s relevant to them.

So how do you go the extra mile?

Change the way your organisation thinks about sustainability and recycling, make it core. Organise your teams – or departments, or locations – into a recycling league. Publish their results and give prizes to the winners. Stir up some competitive spirit and you’ll see results skyrocket.

Scale up recycling

At the other end of the scale from the small office environment is the household-name British retailer who didn’t just settle for waste legislation compliance. They committed to sending zero waste to landfill.

They reviewed their operations and logistics to understand where their waste came from and where it went. The solution? Rather than developing something new, they optimised their existing infrastructure to improve operational, environmental and financial performance.

The key was adapting their operations to allow backhauling – safely taking waste away using vehicles that would otherwise be making ‘empty’ return journeys. This small change meant that they significantly cut down the number of vehicles making collections, which improved the CO2 cost of transporting waste and allowed them to make savings on what they would have paid at landfill.

In other words, they’ve gone the extra mile by not going extra miles.

More of this kind of recycling innovation would lead to sustainability savings for many organisations.

Sustainable isn’t unsustainable

At DS Smith, we’re keen to dispel the myth that environmental compliance and best practice somehow come at a cost to a business. After all, you can’t be sustainable if it’s unsustainable!

In fact, slew of more than fifty studies in the last ten years have shown that businesses who lead on sustainability are financially outperforming their competition.

So don’t be daunted by the idea of best practice – go beyond the obvious and see what innovation can do for you.


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