With a raft of seemingly endless waste disposal regulations making ever-growing demands on industry, companies are fast realising that there are opportunities to reduce overheads.

Regulations are a constant  factor for companies dealing with environmental issues, and the need to both comply with current legislation and keep abreast of the latest developments is daunting.

But industry is increasingly coming to realise that regulations covering the production and treatment of waste — both during manufacturing and at the end of product life — are presenting opportunities for cost cutting.

The Waste Acceptance Criteria, which came into force in this country in July, are part of the European Commission’s Hazardous Waste Directive.

Intended to ensure that different types of waste are only sent to landfills and disposal facilities that are equipped to cope with them, the criteria mean that companies producing waste must know all of its properties before it is sent to landfill.

Waste streams must be checked periodically to ensure that these properties have not changed; and each delivery must be checked at the landfill site to verify that it is the expected waste and has not been contaminated in storage or transit.

The EC has produced a document called the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) which classifies waste under three headings: inert, which may be accepted without testing; non-hazardous, such as municipal wastes and asbestos waste which is not liable to form fibres, and SNRHW (stable, non-reactive hazardous wastes); and hazardous, which includes the long-established lists of toxic, corrosive and irritant substances, but now also includes such items as fluorescent tubes, computer monitors and televisions.

This means that some smaller companies are now, for the first time, finding themselves producing hazardous wastes.

Classification of waste involves discussions with disposal contractors on how to handle the different substances. This also covers the minimisation and recycling of the waste and, according to Envirowise, the government-funded body which advises industry on waste management, this can be used to improve production processes.

For example, Scottish-based collagen manufacturer Devro, identified annual cost savings of almost £190,000, including a £19,000 reduction in waste disposal costs, energy savings of £100,000, and between £35,000 and £70,900 in water costs and effluent charges. Safety, health and environment manager Brian Sweeney said: ‘The Envirowise FastTrack report has confirmed what we suspected but also provided us with an indication of the true cost of waste to our business. This will assist us in prioritising our efforts to reduce the overall impact and set realistic targets.’

Envirowise is now starting a three-year project called HAZRED, in conjunction with the Environment Agency and its Scottish and Irish counterparts; the Waste Recycling Group, Safety-Kleen and the Groundwork Foundation, with around €1.5m (£1m) funding from the EU and other organisations.

Working with smaller businesses, with 250 staff or fewer, HAZRED aims to help companies in the construction, metal treatment, vehicle maintenance, photographic processing, machinery building and speciality organic chemical sectors to manage and reduce their hazardous waste streams.

Among the aims is the development of a training package for designing and implementing waste reduction plans, and methods of using waste management to cut costs.

Other industries are finding that waste management and costcutting are related in unexpected ways. The need to ensure that products can be disposed of safely at the end of their life is filtering into the design process, said Mike Adami-Sampson, head of product strategy for PLM specialist MatrixOne.

‘Manufacturers need to know what substances make up their products to a greater degree than ever before, and in these days of outsourcing, this means that they need to what’s in the materials and components they buy in from outside,’ he explained.

The automotive sector realised this some years ago, and developed a central repository for substance information. The global automotive declarable substance list (GADSL), compiled in response to the European End-Of-Vehicle-Life directive which came into force in 2000, was the result of a year-long collaboration between car manufacturers, component suppliers and the chemicals and plastics industry to help manufacturers log and track the substances which remain in cars once they are sold.

However, Adami-Sampson said that other industries need to gather this information directly from their suppliers. ‘Many operators have treated waste disposal as a bolt-on, but these new regulations have forced them to push it up the development cycle,’ he said. ‘It becomes part of the targets of the development process, almost akin to the process of getting an aircraft in development off the ground.’

For some applications, waste minimisation legislation has given rise to new areas of R&D. For example, a group at Exeter University is developing a new type of automotive brake pad based on natural materials, such as hemp, jute and flax. ‘This process began with the removal of asbestos from brake pads in the 1980s,’ said Luke Savage of Exeter Advanced Technology, the university technology transfer arm which is leading the research.

‘Its replacement, aramid fibre, often known as Kevlar, is very expensive. Eco-friendly alternatives such as jute, hemp, nettle, and flax are all much, much cheaper.’

Another, more unexpected way in which the effect of legislation is becoming apparent is in the way manufacturers are having to supplement their current bills of materials, saying what components make up their products, with a bill of materials.

‘What people are finding is that this is giving them more insight into their costs,’ explained Adami-Sampson. ‘Quite often, they didn’t realise the proportion of highly expensive metals or materials, and this is allowing them to identify the sources of cost in their products, as well as the sources of difficulty in disposal. This might well give them new ways to improve their profitability,’ he added.