Yorkshire scheme brings waste minimisation to smaller firms

A waste minimisation project in South Yorkshire has recruited 18 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), most of which have identified significant savings. But the organisers have concluded that it is generally more difficult to engage SMEs in minimisation projects - and there can be fewer opportunities for big savings.

The Don Rother Dearne project was launched by the Centre for Exploitation of Science and Technology (CEST) in 1996 with funding from the BOC Foundation, the Environment Agency, the Co-operative Bank and Yorkshire Water. Following an SME recruitment drive in early 1997, it eventually attracted 24 participants, 18 of which were SMEs.

CEST found that recruiting SMEs was difficult. Obstacles included time constraints, lack of capital and in some cases limited scope for savings.

The project report, published in November, also suggests that SMEs tend to be relatively efficient. 1 The scope for savings is "generally less in percentage terms" than in larger firms, in part because consumption patterns and waste streams are more visible.

Five of the 18 SMEs made savings of less than £1,000, and two of those less than £100. Nevertheless, on average the SMEs saved almost £10,000 per year.

CEST concludes that "the experience overall is that the barriers can be worked round and that there is a significant benefit for the majority of SMEs." Many of the companies are now building on the experience to introduce certified environmental management systems.

The scheme's total running costs were around £200,000, of which 37% came from the participating companies. The project has already achieved £565,000 of annual savings, and opportunities to double these have been identified.

Most of the opportunities cost nothing or had a payback period of less than a year (see figure ). These generally involved procedural changes or minor modifications to equipment. Quick returns were of particular importance to SMEs, many of which considered a two-year payback period too long.

The biggest savings were achieved by cutting energy or water consumption. The annual environmental benefits include reductions of 4,500 tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions, 5,100m 3 in waste sent to landfill and 275,000m 3 in water consumption. Examples include:

  • McKenna Precision Castings in Dinnington found that its manufacturing process generated around £36,000 a year of valuable alloy waste. The company improved mould design and finishing operations to reduce waste, and reclaims much of what remains to save around £25,000 per year.

  • R Wilson Co Platers of Chesterfield made changes to a chrome plating process to allow components to drain more completely - thereby saving on chemicals and reducing the load on its effluent treatment plant. It also modified its rinsing system so that the outflow from one tank is cascaded into another, reducing water use and effluent. The two measures cost a total of £300 and are saving nearly £12,000 per year.

  • Of the larger firms in the project, RJB Mining identified nine waste minimisation opportunities at Maltby Colliery which could save nearly £500,000 per year. In one instance, investing £15,000 to replace old and leaking shower pipework valves and controls has saved £35,000 per year.

    CEST has also reported recently on a waste minimisation project in Kent. 2 The Medway and Swale project ran for 18 months to the end of 1997. It identified more than 200 minimisation opportunities and potential annual savings of over £4 million for its 25 members. Again, most of the opportunities cost nothing or had very short payback times.

    Major savings have been achieved by Blue Circle Cement and Zeneca Agrochemicals - £700,000 and £567,000 per year, respectively. Pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer identified annual savings of around £1,680,000, but has yet to implement many of the measures.

    CEST cites commitment from senior management, a high level of employee involvement, and the development of a clear and structured approach as essential to success.

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