By Esther Kamwilu
What do you think, do the products we buy abide to sustainability principles? Well, let’s find out….
Consumers are often unaware of the impacts of their purchasing decisions. Is the product safe to environment and human health when used? Is the product packaging recyclable? Is the product durable? Are the products purchased abiding to sustainability principles? Products abiding to sustainability principles, are products that can guarantee environmental and health conservation, whilst resulting to less and/or better (i.e., recyclable) waste, that would result to less value destruction via their end-of-life (EoL) management.
EoL management of waste consists of collection, treatment and reprocessing depending on the various waste streams produced (e.g., construction and demolition, commercial and industrial and household waste), each of which requires energy and other resources to operate (HM Government, 2018). As a result, producing less waste can bring the demand for collection and management, and associated resources, down. Moreover, production of ‘better’ waste refers to the ability of these wastes to be properly managed using the existing waste infrastructure. The waste infrastructure in the UK has evolved to manage the different fractions of waste generated (i.e., recyclable, mixed or organic), given that these are segregated at source into recyclables, food/green waste and general mixed waste, via a range of treatment facilities (authorised through permits and licences) that can maximise the value recovery from them. These include incineration with energy recovery, material recovery facilities (MRFs), recycling facilities, composting and anaerobic digestion facilities (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2020).
In 2018, the United Kingdom generated about 26.4 million tonnes of waste from households, accounting for 45% of the total waste generated (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2020). Various household waste management strategies have been implemented to advance the sustainability agenda, such as raising awareness on the significance of recycling (Gopinath, 2020). However, for achieving sustainability across the value chain, one must look beyond improving waste management. Evidence suggests that we could avoid 80% of the environmental harm from waste products through better decision making in the production phase (HM Government, 2018). The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013) highlights the significance of circular design through the choice of materials and product design as vital to the circular economy concept in waste management.
bide boxes is a cleaning supplies company that has provided a pathway for achieving the circular design by abiding to sustainability principles. The cleaning products they produce are made from natural ingredients, delivered to home ‘manufacturers’ that produce the final product. This home manufacturing model prevents the release of chemicals to the environment and reducing the impact on producers and end-user’s health when the products are produced and used, respectively. Moreover, it supports not just the planet but also the people by supporting local communities and those in need of employment. The processes are simple, yet home manufacturers receive training, and their processes are controlled to ensure the quality of the products. This home manufacturing model can expand or retract as informed by demand creating less destruction. Moreover, the packages used to contain the home-made cleaning products are 100% recyclable or compostable that can be successfully managed in the existing UK waste infrastructure Furthermore, to offset the carbon produced from transportation, a tree is planted upon each delivery made. (Bide Boxes). What do you think, do they abide?
Making the transition to sustainable products requires the unified awareness and collaboration across all agents involved in the value chain, from business, to governments and local authorities, producers and consumers. From a consumer’s perspective, the decision-making process that affects product durability is generally observed in which product to buy, how it is used and how/where it is disposed of. Beyond the conservation of resources/materials used, durability and circularity is pivotal in resource-efficient business models (HM Government, 2018) and ultimately, product abiding. So, the next time we shop, maybe we could ask, “does it abide?”. As Maxwell Maltz said, “To change a habit, make a conscious decision, then act out the new behaviour”.
Esther Kamwilu is a Graduate student at Brunel University London studying MSc Environmental Management. She currently consults as an Assistant Science Editor and previously worked as an Assistant Researcher – Tree Commodities and Bioenergy at the World Agroforestry (ICRAF) Nairobi, in the Landscapes Governance theme. She has a background in Management of Agroecosystems and Environment from the University of Nairobi. Her current research interests include bioenergy, biowaste and residue management and environmental management for sustainable development.
Bide Boxes website. https://www.bideboxes.com. Accessed on 29th November 2020.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs., 2020. UK Statistics on Waste. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Government Statistical Service. 19th March 2020. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/918270/UK_Statistics_on_Waste_statistical_notice_March_2020_accessible_FINAL_updated_size_12.pdf
Gopinath, D., 2020. Waste management in England and the 'circular economy' model. Geography, 105.
HM Government., 2018. Our waste, our resources: a strategy for England.
The MacArthur Foundation., 2013. Towards the circular economy. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2.