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Designing out waste

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Producing a lot of waste as an organisation or household means things are not functioning efficiently. It’s likely to increase financial costs as well as longer term costs on natural systems. Unfortunately, at the moment our whole global economy is a bit like a business that is not running efficiently - and the costs are piling up.

Rapid urbanization and population growth and our current linear production and consumption models will push global annual waste generation to rise to 3.4 billion tonnes over the next 30 years, up from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016.[1] Relying on recycling to deal with the unwanted waste is not enough and actually comes with its own carbon cost.  It’s estimated that the carbon dioxide generated from the treatment, management and disposal of waste represented 5 per cent of global carbon emissions in 2016.[2]

A solution can be found in the circular economy model. Instead of a “take, make, dispose" model, circular economies design waste out of the system, and resources are regenerated or reused multiple times. This means using less, more efficiently, as well as designing products that can be repaired, reused or remade. 

This section looks beyond recycling and at how waste effects key consumer sectors. From Euroconsumers research, it suggests some simple ways that businesses and consumers can start to achieve a low waste economy:

  • Too much on the plate: Large portions and leftover food are such a normal part of eating out that consumers don’t always feel comfortable asking for smaller amounts, or to take food home. Euroconsumers research with Spanish consumers shows how asking them how they’d like things to change could help small hospitality businesses lower the 7% of restaurant food that ends up in the bin[3].  The survey showed 42% of people regularly left food on the plate, and only 25% said they were able to order smaller portions.[4] With so much regularly left over, consumers feel that they waste money and food, but can feel embarrassed asking for a container to take it home in. They would welcome more choice in portion sizes, and for the option to take left over food home to be normalized.  Read more about the survey here (in Spanish).

  • Grocery food waste: One third of the world's food production is wasted[5]. In the EU, supermarkets are linking up with local bio-generator plants to use unsold food as a source of bioenergy, or are donating it to food banks and charities. Others are working with the production and supply side by partnering with farmers to offer more sustainable products. Read more about supermarket food waste (in French).

  • An end to product destruction – Euroconsumers has written about the practice of destroying returned online items or end of season clothing lines. New laws in France have extended their anti-waste provisions on food to cover unsold non-food products. We may see similar things in other countries as the issue gets more attention. In France, the encouraged French non-food companies to build new partnerships with second-hand businesses. Read why destroying new and unused products is a growing problem (in English).

  • Help streamline recycling and waste management: SMEs can increase their own internal recycling and at the same time establish themselves as a hub for take-back schemes for things like old mobile phones, tablets and chargers. This will help consumers by taking products off their hands and build up the material resources needed for remanufacturing. Manufacturers can also make sure products are easy to disassemble. This is essential if repairs are needed and makes recycling and reuse in the production cycle easier. Find out more about how changing product assembly can boost new markets for recycling and reuse (in Italian).


[1] Get ref

[2] https://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-aste/trends_in_solid_waste_management.html

[3] Unilever Food Solutions Study (full ref required)

[4] https://www.ocu.org/alimentacion/alimentos/noticias/desperdicio-de-alimentos

[5] http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/