An Interview with: Angela Parke, Business Development Manager at ISL Waste Management.
We joined Angela Parke, Business Development Manager at ISL Waste Management to find out more about her role. Angela gave us an insight into the waste initiatives that ISL is currently working on, the barriers preventing NI businesses getting involved in reducing waste, and how as a company, they see the challenges surrounding waste as opportunities.
Q1) Could you share with us a little about your background and what inspires you to work in the Waste Management industry?
My background in the waste industry began in 2004 as a Clinical Waste Specialist. As a lifelong environmentalist, ISL stood out in the waste industry for all the right reasons. ISL has the vision to change the culture of how we think about "waste", along with strong ethics and core values.
In 2018, I took a leap of faith and joined the ISL team, with the mindset to use and develop my skills and knowledge to educate people in reducing environmental impact. My objective is to actively change how people think about waste, by educating them on simple changes they can make in the workplace, and to create a mindset that encourages people to actively reduce wastage and ultimately protect the quality of our natural environment.
Q2) Part of the ISL vision surrounds 'striving to introduce new and ground-breaking solutions to age-old waste problems by doing things in a different way.' What do you think sets you apart from your competition in being able to do this?
We use the waste hierarchy, starting at the top, to educate and encourage our customers to think outside the box. Through prevention, we can consciously reduce the amount of waste we produce by reusing or finding a new purpose for items we no longer need. As they say. "one man's waste is another's treasure." We view each client as unique because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to finding the right system. When the people, processes, and priorities differ - so might the system!
Q3) ISL supports education to change perceptions surrounding waste. Is there something you would like to see more of, or that Northern Ireland needs, in order to encourage a societal behavioural shift to how we handle waste?
Societal behaviour towards waste can be turned around through education. It should be taught in schools, clubs, societies and the workplace. Eventually, it will become a habitual way of life; it needs to be. Unfortunately, most people don't really think about where waste ends up once they have thrown it away. Most people want to contribute, but are often confused by what they can recycle, as it varies - depending on where you live/work.
Q4) Can you give us an example of a waste management initiative that you are currently working on?
ISL Waste Management is working in partnership with the Belfast Business Improvement District (BID). One of our shared objectives is to market and promote Belfast City Centre as a Zero Waste City. All businesses within the BID area can avail of free waste audits from ISL to help them become a Zero Waste to landfill business. There are a range of other benefits added into the package, including; an online customer portal, compliance packs, monthly waste reports, staff training, waste management presentations and a dedicated Account Manager. Ultimately, the aspiration of achieving zero waste to landfill status for the BID area can only be done if there is a working knowledge of how the waste provider disposes of the waste it collects.
Q4b) Can you give us an example of a waste management initiative/project that you are most proud of?
I recently worked closely with a coffee manufacturer. They had excess waste streams of coffee chaff and hessian sacks; all of which went to landfill, and cost them to dispose of. Coffee Chaff is the dried skin on a coffee bean which comes off during the roasting process. It is actually great for composting and using as mulch for plants and vegetables. Hessian sacks are usually made from the skin of a jute plant and are also completely biodegradable, meaning they are great for growing vegetables or using as an alternative to plastic sheeting, to curb weed growth. Through our partnership with a local charity, the coffee chaff and the hessian sacks are now reused in four community garden allotments across Belfast, to help grow produce. We believe this is a fantastic example of sustainability and circular economy.
Q5) A primary part of ISL is to cater to other businesses' waste management needs. What would you consider to be the main barriers preventing businesses in Northern Ireland getting involved with reducing their waste, and how easy is it for a business to have a waste audit done?
Quite often, businesses are so busy running their core day-to-day operations, they become stuck on the 'to-do' list. It is not actually that daunting, and when businesses start to learn about how much money they can save, it encourages them to think differently about waste. It also couldn't be easier to have a waste audit done. A business can simply contact us on the phone or online to arrange a free waste audit by a member of the team.
Q6) According to the 2017 Marine Litter Report, over 82% of the rubbish on our beaches is made up of plastic, 30% of which is single-use plastic. What do you think is needed to help Northern Ireland solve its problem with plastic?
The problem cannot be solved by replacing plastic throw-away items with similar single-use alternatives, such as compostable items (which more often than not are not compostable). This is simply kicking the can down the road. Our entire culture and throw-away lifestyle needs to change. If we do not stop manufacturing single-use plastics, then financial penalties should be introduced to dissuade people in the first instance. We need to use our own refillable containers on shopping trips and avoid packaging items when possible, such as loose fruit and vegetables - this should be incentivised, rather than penalised. At the moment, in most supermarkets, loose produce costs more than pre-packaged produce, and that needs to change.
Q6b) With the recent TV programme by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall on plastic, how can we ensure we are not shipping plastic across the world to Malaysia to burn and process? People want to do their bit, but seeing our plastic in Malaysia is a concern, whilst local authorities label it “recycling”.
This is a very complex global issue, not just one that affects us. Until we have our own recycling infrastructure, whereby we don't have to export all of our waste, we will continue to be exposed to that risk. It is ok saying the material can be recycled, but there must be continuous availability of end destinations, at commercial rates for it to be sent to. A study by Science Advances stated that since 1992, 72% of plastic waste was sent to China and Hong Kong. So, when China banned nearly all plastic imports in January 2018, there was almost an instant seismic shift in supply and demand. We are so fortunate in that we have long-standing arrangements with recyclers within Europe that have continued to take our higher volume plastics. However, the reality is that we are almost entirely reliant on external influences and economies to help us ensure our waste is recycled.
Q7) Northern Ireland has a proposal for 60% of municipal waste to be recycled by 2020. What do you think are the main challenges, if any, to meeting and surpassing this target?
First and foremost, the continued supply and existence of products and packaging that are not recyclable. Next, is the availability of viable end destinations to send material to. Furthermore, since China implemented its 'national sword' policy, various markets have closed, and materials previously being recycled no longer have any demand, meaning they are now being burned for energy recovery or sent to landfill. As a result, we now need to look at process capability and new technology.
Q8) Since the declaration of the climate change emergency, and now looking forward to 2030 and beyond, what do you foresee as the biggest challenges for ISL Waste Management?
We view many of the challenges as opportunities. In fact, we have already begun mapping our own business activities against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is something that will become more prominent in the months and years ahead. This sets out 17 target objectives to be achieved by 2030 for peace, prosperity for people, and the planet - both now and in the future, by all countries in a global partnership. We would strongly encourage anyone reading this to do the same.
"We are privileged to be in a position of being able to deliver tangible improvements to the environmental footprints of the businesses who use us."
Ultimately, we need to change people's opinions on waste and do more to help change their mindsets.
Q9) Finally, what advice would you give to a business in Northern Ireland looking to manage its waste?
I think the biggest misconception is that people think that they are doing their bit if they recycle, but there is so much more that needs to be done before it reaches that stage. Firstly, I would advise they review the waste they produce and carry out a waste hierarchal analysis: What is it? Why do you have it? Is it absolutely necessary? Can it be avoided? Are there reusable alternatives? And is it recyclable? The only waste left after this is the unavoidable waste. They should then consider what actions they can take to make it as easy as possible for the waste to be recovered from a recycling process. I would also recommend reviewing the impact your business has on the environment, and challenge your waste management partner to assist them in driving change.
Believe it or not, it is not as hard or daunting a process as it may sound. We appreciate that it is not your job to be experts in waste and you have enough pressure to deal with in your daily core operations. So, to remove the stress, we will do this for you.
If you are interested in finding out more about ISL Waste Management or would like to request a free waste audit, you can reach the team at email@example.com or by calling 028 9084 4445.