Why care? If our deep dive isn’t enough to inspire you to look to solutions, as we highlighted last time, measuring and acting on emissions footprints will increasingly become expected as part of business – and the same is true of managing waste.

Investors, and also customers under pressure to address efficiencies and environmental impacts in their supply chains, will be looking for waste data when deciding who to back or work with. And, your waste footprint is inherently tied to your emissions footprint, providing another incentive to act to tackle both problems. Effective waste management can have a significant impact on emissions.

The good news is that SMEs largely agree plastic waste is a problem. However, while half are looking towards alternatives, 58% feel they do not have enough incentives to reduce the amount of plastic they use. Smaller firms are less likely to take action. This needs to change. As the focus on this issue increases, the costs of not dealing with the problem will increase, along with additional reputational risks associated with not acting.

There is, of course, also a legal requirement for you to dispose of waste responsibly.

A leaner organisation – Looking to tackle waste can also provide opportunities to improve efficiencies and costs across your organisation. Reducing the amount of waste heading to landfill is not just good for the planet, it will save costs on landfill rates.

Research indicates recycling is one of the easier measures for businesses to implement and upscale. Once waste is audited and recycling assessed, strategies to act in a more circular fashion on a broader scale can then be thought about. Looking to align business practices with environmental management standards is one option, as is looking to organisations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for further advice.

This is also important as it’s likely the cost of materials like plastic will increase due to government action, including taxes, and the knock-on effects of countries like China and Malaysia banning the import of certain types of plastics for recycling. The UK’s waste strategy highlights government plans to take further action to encourage businesses to address recycling and food waste, so getting ahead would be prescient.

Going further, there could be money to be made. In the UK, Defra estimates businesses could be collectively £23bn better off by implementing resource efficiency measures. Innovations to turn waste into new products could also result in market opportunities and revenue streams. Such measures will involve looking for opportunities to work collaboratively with other organisations to identify where discarded materials can be put to benefit.

Areas to tackle – Alongside adhering to the general hierarchy of first preventing waste, then moving to reduce, reuse and recycle, there are a few obvious wins:

Recycling – this goes without saying. Implementing strategies or looking to partners to help sort and recycle waste will reduce waste to landfill and can be chalked up as emissions saved. It can also reinforce positive habits for employees to take home. Cardboard is a large waste stream for most SMEs, so investing in a baler to compress cardboard for easy transport to recycling centres could be one initial option.

Paper – going paperless and implementing effective digital systems can save unnecessary waste while also eliminating a considerable business cost.

Food – installing food waste bins and engaging a food waste management service will divert this important waste stream from landfill to, for example, anaerobic digestion facilities to generate energy. It will help reduce landfill rates and enable you to get ahead of upcoming food waste regulations. It’s also been demonstrated there are positive returns on investment that can be realised through tackling food waste.

Engaging with suppliers – can you identify inefficient or wasteful methods utilised when things are sent to you? Are there opportunities for efficiency gains and packaging reduction? Can the type of packaging be changed, for example into something that’s biodegradable? What about your office equipment? Can you look to use chairs and desks that have the lowest impact from both a carbon and materials perspective?

Energy efficiency – energy can also be wasted unnecessarily. Looking at measures to lower the power used by IT systems, as well as looking to efficient energy supply, along with the efficiency of the buildings you use, can help reduce energy use and emissions while saving money. To reduce e-waste, can your old computer equipment be re-used rather than disposed of?

When taking action, organisational buy-in and support from all levels is important, and it’s key to measure the success of your actions and look to continual areas of improvement.

And remember, there is help out there. Along with the information contained in Sustainable Advantage, organisations such as ReLondon exist to help SMEs with further information and tailored advice on being better with waste.