BLOG – Sustainability in waste management

Sustainability in waste management

In this blog instalment, Alan McIver discusses sustainability in waste management and provides an insight into some of the great work Stericycle is doing, as our first Sustainability Week draws to a close.

I’m Alan McIver. For the past 28 years I’ve worked in the Waste and Environmental Management sector. Currently I am the International Business Development Director for Stericycle.

Over the years waste management has undergone somewhat of a revolution. The catalyst for this was undoubtedly the EU Landfill Directive 1999 implemented in the UK in 2001 which massively reduced the types of waste materials that could be disposed of via Landfill. It’s incredible looking back at the types of substances that could be legally landfilled. Some examples are: flammables, corrosives, oxidisers, laboratory chemicals and bulk tankers of liquid waste! I remember witnessing 25 tonnes of strong acidic material being poured into trenches at a landfill in the South of the UK and seen the ground smoking and reacting as it attempted to absorb the highly aggressive chemicals – clearly an unsatisfactory and unsustainable practice.

Post Landfill Directive, which banned most of the above and created specific landfills for non-hazardous and hazardous materials, we have become much more considered and controlled in choosing disposal routes. Economic instruments – notably landfill tax have also created a disincentive to choose this non-sustainable environmental option.

I have been with Avanti Environmental since 2002 and with the Stericycle team since 2010, following acquisition. During that time we have made great steps forward in developing re-use, recycling and recovery options across the Group. This has made us the market-leader in implementing innovative solutions for waste inputs (and outputs).

There are numerous examples but here I list a small number from the different areas of the Stericycle business:

SRCL

Flock: This is the non-hazardous shredded solid material which is produced from our disinfection facilities in Four Ashes, Bridgend, Knowsley and Larkfield. Prior to 2011 most of this material was sent to landfill but now we have much better alternatives.

Flock is predominantly plastic and fiber. It has a very good calorific value (about 75% of coal) and we have found it is a useful alternative fuel for facilities such as SRFCement Kilns, Power Stations and Paper Mills. This not only provides us with an economic recovery alternative to landfill but also results in the facilities reducing their requirement for fossil fuels – a very good result.

Up to 40,000 tonnes per year are now utilised in this manner and we have made a significant investment in the plant at our Avanti site on Merseyside to allow us to prepare the material to agreed specifications with out-take partners.

Offensive Waste: Typically nappies and hygiene products, make a large contribution to landfill volumes internationally.

At SRCL we have successfully completed recovery and recycling trials for this type of waste. This has involved a bespoke composting process and addition of the offensive waste to our alternative fuel supply from Avanti. We are also speaking with other companies offering recovery alternatives.

These projects still need more research and trials but demonstrate our commitment to removing these problematic materials permanently from landfill.

Bottom Ash: Residual ash from some of our incineration facilities is now being sent to specialist recovery facilities. Here the metal content is recovered and the inorganic residue re-processed into aggregates for the construction industry.

Avanti

Solid Flammable Waste: Typically paints, adhesives, distillation residues and other flammable solid wastes.

These are sent to a facility who use the materials as an alternative energy source to power a rotary kiln. The kiln’s primary function is to clean up to 1 million tonnes of contaminated soil per annum which is then re-used in land remediation and construction.

Laboratory Chemicals: Various solid and liquid wastes in small containers (<5 litres) typically from schools, hospitals and universities.

These are prepared and packed by Avanti into compatible hazard types then sent Lab Flasksto specialist facilities where they are used as an alternative energy source. This is an ecomonic and sustainable alternative to the traditional disposal by incineration.

Wastes containing precious/semi-precious metals: Avanti recovers a range of valuable metallic wastes from a wide range of inputs such as x-ray film, fixer and developer solutions, dental amalgam, catalytic convertors and batteries.

Shred-it

Shredded paper: Shred-it recycles thousands of tonnes of shredded paper each month from its confidential destruction Recycled by-products smlprocesses. A number of partners are employed with the recycling process and typical end-uses are in packaging, tissue paper and wipes/kitchen roll.

Computer Hard Disks: After processing these are sent to a specialist recycler and the precious metal content recovered.

X-Ray Film: The silver content of traditional film (not digital) can be between 5-15g/l which is 100% recoverable and remaining plastic film can also be recycled. We are currently reviewing recovery options with other companies in the Stericycle family.

Stericycle’s commitment to Sustainability

Our commitment to sustainability and innovation in waste management means that the majority of Stericycle’s received waste inputs (and process waste outputs) are either re-used, recovered or recycled. This is an impressive statistic for any organisation but particularly for one such as Stericycle which deals in a wide and diverse range of materials.

We would, of course, like 100% recovery or recycling and 0% Landfill. It’s fair to say that Stericycle has come a long way to achieving that goal but there are still some remaining challenges.

It always has been and will be a team effort.