Waste to Wealth Summit

Waste Signatory

On 22nd November, Business in the Community will host its Waste to Wealth Summit, challenging business leaders to consider how their organisations can benefit from turning waste into wealth. 

At United Utilities, we’ve already seen there is value in wasting less or turning waste into something useful. However, there are many more opportunities to be had and that’s why we are signing up to the Waste to Wealth Commitment. We encourage others to do the same. 

Rapid changes in technology and the growth of consumerism has led to a society that tends to use and throw away rather than repair and recycle. There is limited whole-life design consideration, especially at end-of-use. 

How to manage waste has greater profile thanks to increased media coverage driven by plastic, inspired by Blue Planet 2. Already we can point to some progress such as the introduction of the 5p charge which has cut plastic bag sales by 83%. The recent budget included a tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled material. And the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, due before Christmas, should provide more detail on how the Government plans to achieve the targets in its 25 Year Plan.  

We’ve removed plastic cups from water fountains, swapped plastic cutlery for biodegradable alternatives and rewarded the use of reusable cups at coffee outlets on site. We’ve also been encouraging customers to avoid buying bottles of water and to refill their sports bottles wherever they go. Downloading the Refill app is a great way to do this.

We are also turning waste into something more useful. A by-product from treating wastewater is sludge which, as it breaks down, produces a gas we can use to create energy in combined heat and power engines. Around 18% of the total energy we consume is produced this way. Sludge is also recycled into a fertiliser – one type of waste providing two beneficial uses! 

In Manchester, we treat the gas so it can be exported to the local gas grid and used in homes across the city. The site has been described as “the most innovative green energy scheme in the world", recognised with an award from the Institute of Chemical Engineering. We’re investigating fuelling our HGVs with this gas, creating a truly circular economy whilst simultaneously tackling emissions.

And at the summit itself, we are showcasing a treatment solution that doesn’t need any energy to remove phosphorous from wastewater. We call it ‘magic gravel’ and it removes the phosphorous in a way that means it can be used again. 

We all need to move toward a circular economy mind-set. That’s what we’ve done and it has proved to be cost effective and efficient. Seeing waste as a valuable commodity that can be used in other ways is essential if we are to truly tackle the mounting issue of waste. Businesses should lead this shift in behaviour. I am confident that events such as the Waste to Wealth Summit can inspire business leaders to come together to share ideas and drive this change.