Innovate Blog
Zero Waste Week: Keep Calm and Use Data Wisely

Friday September 9, 2016

Ask the Expert: Jo Gilroy (Head of Sustainability).

We asked our Sustainability expert ‘What’s your number one tip for a successful recycling initiative?’

And here’s what she told us…

Sustainability Expert - Jo Gilroy Twitter - @JoannaGilroy

Sustainability Expert – Jo Gilroy Twitter – @JoannaGilroy

As Zero Waste Week is upon us many are rightly discussing the need to reduce the amount we waste and to get creative with how we can reuse items we no longer want or need.  The third step in the waste hierarchy is to recycle, but this step tends to get less attention given that recycling is a straight forward action.  Find a recycling bin, put the unwanted item inside and VOILA!  Job done.  The item has been recycled and we can congratulate ourselves on being recycling superheroes.

Over recent weeks however, this recycling superhero feeling has faded in light of the press activity with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on frequently used items commonly understood as recyclable, but which are not being recycled.  The coffee cup being the main villain of this story.  But what went wrong?  How did most of us go from hero to zero without the final epic battle between good and evil (a battle the good guy always wins)?


SuperheroThe answer is data.  Very few of us are looking at the right data and even fewer are asking, what is this data actually showing me?  Is this even the right data to be collecting?  When it comes to understanding how much you or your business has recycled, we all rely on data showing how many recycling bin loads, and the weight of each, we’ve had collected each week, month, year.  Time and time again I have witnessed organisations claiming a 70%, 80%, even 90% recycling rate, supported by this data.  What this data actually shows is how much material an organisation sent for recycling, not how much was actually recycled.  Why is this?  It is because data concerning bin weights does not take into account (or deduct) the volume of contamination present either from general waste, food waste, or unrecyclable products, all of which increase the overall weight of the bin and reduces how well (and whether at all) recyclable material can be extracted from the load.  Consequently, it is possible that organisations reporting high recycling rates might not even be aware that they have a problem.

What matters is not that a product is recyclable, what matters is that it is actually recycled, and we can only recognise this distinction by recording and acting on the right data.


So what’s to be done?  Well the first step is to be as robust as you can be on limiting contamination which might find its way into your recycling bin front of house.  Get creative on engaging staff on the importance of recycling well.  Provide them with feedback on the impact of positive actions.  Audit your recycling bin regularly so that you thoroughly understand what is, or is not, making its way inside.  Keep an open dialogue with your waste management provider.  As markets for recyclable materials frequently change it is important to remain one step ahead of any changes which might impact your recycling rates.  Actively work together to measure and record more accurate and transparent data which better shows actual recycling rates.

Finally, if you are totally stuck for ideas you can always reach out to the Bunzl Catering Supplies Waste to Resource Partnership.  Whether it involves coffee cups, plastic cups, cardboard, or general recycling best practice, Bunzl Catering Supplies has been partnering with likeminded organisations to help our customers get to grips with recycling.  For example, check out our Simply Cups partnership video showing how we are helping customers overcome the difficulty of recycling coffee cups.

To see how we could help your business with recycling your food packaging, please email


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