How Much Waste Do Factories Produce?

Posted on 20th January 2017

In the past we've looked long and hard at how much waste we all produce in the UK; how much our supermarkets waste, what goes into big events and even how much we all waste as individuals. But what about the people producing all those goods in the first place? How much waste is produced in the UK's factories, and those abroad, and what are they doing to cut down?

In 2010 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ran a nationwide survey to see just how much we were all wasting, including businesses. An enormous 24million tonnes of waste is produced annually by industry in the UK, according to their findings. As high as that figure is though, the survey found that waste had actually dropped by over 35% since 37million tonnes were produced in 2002, and better still that just over 50% of it is now reused or recycled.

Sector

Waste (000 tonnes)

Sector recycling & reuse rate (%)

Food, drink & tobacco

4,756

50.1

Textiles / Wood / paper / publishing

3,450

58.9

Power & utilities

5,720

46.3

Chemicals / non-metallic minerals manufacturing

3,847

42.0

Metal manufacturing

4,235

53.1

Machinery & equipment (other manufacturing)

2,164

65.5

Subtotal - Industrial

24,173

51.1

Retail & wholesale

9,212

59.6

Hotels & catering

2,671

48.2

Public administration & social work

2,890

29.9

Education

1,481

43.1

Transport & storage

2,189

62.2

Other services

5,402

53.9

Subtotal - Commercial

23,844

52.8

TOTAL

48,018

52.0

Similar stats from the European Environment Agency show that UK waste overall has been falling for years, something we've reported on in the past. Clearly though this trend is encouraging, and whilst the figures are still far from perfect, a 35% drop in waste is not to be sniffed at, especially in a period where the business population rose by 10%.

Factories Going Green
Whilst most businesses have been gradually cutting waste, usually in response to government environmental guidelines, some take it a step further and aim to be completely waste free.

Global food and drink giant Nestle has been working to reduce waste in all of its 443 factories worldwide, and recently made its three UK Nescafe-producing plants landfill waste-free. By reusing materials from the production process Nestle has saved £120,000 each year per factory, and even made additional funds by selling over 800 tonnes of waste cardboard, metal and other materials to businesses that can reuse them.

Many of their factories also use adaptations on-site to save energy and waste, with 21 utilising unused coffee grounds to generate power for the factories, whilst around 70% of its rural plants now have water treatment plants to reuse water from the production process, halving water usage in some instances.

Coca-Cola have also been taking steps to reduce their waste footprint, having already cut their packaging waste by over 38% in the past 20 years. Coke's plastic bottles are now made of 25% recycled material, as well 37% their glass and 50% aluminium cans. in 2011 they also introduced 100% recyclable plant bottle material helping them reach recycling rates 99.5% across the whole business.

To find out the benefits gained from recycling some of Coca-Cola's packaging, as well as other household items, they've put together the Recyclometer - http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/environment/recyclometer.html - handy for seeing just how much impact even the smallest of items can have.

Whilst it seems unlikely that every business will, or even could, go waste free in the UK, it's nice to see that some are trying. With figures dropping every year, we're well on our way to cutting out the majority of unnecessary waste, so if a few more big companies join in the drive in the coming years, we could well be living in a waste-free future.

Statistics from:

DEFRA: http://www.defra.gov.uk/

EEA: http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer/countries/uk/waste-state-and-impacts-united-kingdom

Nestlé: http://www.nestle.com/media/newsandfeatures/nestle-hits-target-of-zero-waste-uk-factory

Coca-Cola: http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/faq/environment/what-is-coca-cola-doing-to-reduce-energy-use-waste-packaging.html