In collaboration with the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection, the University of Augsburg developed waste avoidance guidelines for government agencies. To a great extent, the concept can also be applied to most companies. Petra Hutner is responsible for the project and knows how important it is for people to change the way they think about waste.
Can the guidelines for government agencies also be applied to corporate settings?
Generally speaking, yes. After all, most government agencies work like a company, without the production aspect. So the guidelines apply to the public and private sector.
Waste prevention is more effective long-term than recycling.
What exactly does waste prevention mean?
The definition varies greatly from country to country. German law defines it as all steps before a product becomes actual waste. So if something is disposed of and later reused (like a broken fridge that is discarded, repaired and then used once again) – we consider it a type of waste avoidance. What counts is whether something is actually rubbish or just considered rubbish.
In your opinion, how much do people value waste reduction and ecological sustainability?
Especially in Germany, I believe people tend to think more about the environmental aspects and recycling than waste avoidance. One example: there’s much more attention given to generating alternative fuel sources than reducing waste. Inhabitants in countries with seamless waste separation and waste removal systems often disregard the topic of waste prevention. People assume they can simply recycle everything.
Set targets and start with small steps
How exactly can companies reduce waste?
In manufacturing, companies can limit poisonous agents and critical metals. Consumers can extend the lifetime of appliances and use LED lamps in buildings. At the end of a product lifecycle, you can repair something instead of discarding it. Sharing printers is yet another way.
What are your recommendations for companies?
First, set common goals and involve all departments. A company can only create effective guidelines and measure its success if it has clear targets to reach.
What advice do you have for companies that want to take the first step?
Saving paper and switching the printer settings to double-sided and black and white are two ways to start. Another great example is installing water dispensers. Employees can simply fill up their glasses or bottles as needed. Water dispensers also eliminate costly procurement of bottled water and reduce waste from production, transport and removal of plastic bottles.
Petra Hutner, University of Augsburg
Petra Hutner studied geography and environmental ethics. She works at the University of Augsburg as part of a research group for resource strategy, and production and supply chain management.
What waste prevention costs and how companies benefit
What do you need to get started?
The will to do so and a common understanding. It’s crucial to support decision makers, so they can set good examples. Sustainability must be set up for the long haul. We recommend employee training courses to help change their people’s attitudes long term.
How significant is the switch from plastic bottles to water dispensers?
To raise awareness among employees about waste prevention, it’s crucial to start with visible changes, like using water dispensers. Such measures increase people’s appreciation of this valuable resource and offer an environmentally-friendly alternative to disposable bottles.
Is waste prevention expensive?
The investment always depends on the concept and realisation. Switching to LED lamps certainly entails financial costs, changing the standard settings on a printer is less costly. Water dispensers also require a higher up-front cost but lead to long-term savings. Solely because you no longer have to purchase plastic bottles. Generally you can say that all sustainability costs are worth it in the long run.
How do companies benefit from waste avoidance?
Adopting sustainable practices, including waste avoidance, is good for a company’s image. Further, it can lead to better customer service. For instance, water dispensers allow a business to offer clients and business partners fresh, still or sparkling water. And glass bottles with the company logo strengthen corporate identity.