The project was developed in response to the growing need for industry to develop a practical response to increasing legislation in the area of waste packaging. The Electricity Supply Board (ESB), as a major procurer of materials, identified the need to address this issue and together with a number of other parties formed The Waste Packaging Partnership. The partnership submitted a proposal to the EU to undertake a demonstration project, which would attempt to develop practical strategies that could be applied within the partner organisations, but also in industry as a whole.
The objective of the project was to identify new techniques and sustainable management strategies for industry, which would lead to the minimisation of packaging waste going to landfill by promoting the use of alternatives chosen with regard to their optimum levels of environmental impact and taking into account their economic costs. The project comprised seven steps:
- identification of the various packaging materials through audit and life-cycle assessment in order to identify the environmental impact at every stage in the supply chain.
- a minimisation programme involving consideration of the available options, economic costs and technical and environmental implications. Acceptance of the various alternatives by management was to be a feature of this stage. A re-evaluation of current practices in material supply, collection, handling and delivery practices was also to be carried out.
- the identification of packaging for re-use, including trial use of re-usable containers for component distribution. This also covered the exploitation of available market routes for recovery and re-cycling of packaging waste. Strategies for segregated waste streams were to be developed with full written procedures, monitoring of target levels and growth potential identified.
- disposal to landfill and the economics of dumping packaging waste requiring final disposal was to be re-examined with Fingal Co. Council.
- a wide ranging examination of sustainable emerging technologies for packaging waste treatment for possible use by industrial partners and by extension to industry in general.
- the establishment of a set of guidelines and strategic principles suitable for application by industry. Their transferability across industrial sectors would be subject to cost effectiveness and acceptance by managements.
- continuous information exchange between the partners was to be a feature of the project.
The project objective was fulfilled with sustainable management strategies developed for application across a broad range of industries. Change in packaging design in order to minimise environmental impact is possible, practical and economical. The project demonstrated that solid waste currently generated by the ESB and Eircom can be reduced by 80%. Practical economic alternatives to landfill exist, and the volumes of packaging waste material currently disposed to landfill can be substanbtially reduced through the adoption of minimisation at source and minimisation at end strategies.
A number of alternative treatment and handling methods for packaging waste were identified and tested by the project. The packaging waste management strategies include:
- Identification and implementation of environmentally friendly and cost-effective design changes to existing packaging specifications which can deliver significant reductions in the existing quantities and type of packaging waste entering company supply chains. Consultation with all internal and external stakeholders of the material function is an essential prerequisite for successful implementation of packaging design change strategies;
- Formalising supplier / customer agreements as to responsibility for packaging and packaging waste through the incorporation of appropriate provision in all tender and contract documentation;
- Implementation of packaging waste segregation at appropriate recovery locations and arranging cost effective and environmentally friendly disposal through the use of viable market routes for recyclates and recoverables;
- Utilisation of sustainable alternative technologies, some of which were identified and assessed by the project, could lead to the introduction of environmentally friendly changes in packaging materials.
197 tonnes of packaging waste was diverted from landfill at the participating sites during trial periods effected as part of the minimisation task. This resulted in savings of EUR 52,000 at these sites. This equates to 729 tonnes and a potential saving of EUR 138,430 per annum. The savings will be much greater as the project is extended to other locations. The validated Recycling Directory of Ireland will address the information needs of Irish industry in identifying appropriate outlets for the recyclates diverted from landfill arising from the implementation of waste management plans.