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How ISO 14001 can improve recycling performance

If you are familiar with ISO 14001:2015, then you will know that when the requirements of the standard are implemented correctly in an Environmental Management System (EMS), then the risk of environmental impact and the amount of wastage are reduced. One place ISO 14001:2015 differs from ISO 14001:2004, however, is the requirement to consider activities that contribute to “the prevention of pollution,” where “recycling” is specifically mentioned. It therefore becomes obvious, particularly in certain industries, how effective recycling can play a big part in truly meeting environmental and legislative requirements. So, how can fulfillment of the ISO 14001 recycling requirements ensure that efficient recycling occurs?

Why is recycling important?

In section 5.2 of ISO 14001:2015, it is stated that an organization’s Environmental Policy should include a “commitment to the prevention of pollution,” as well as a requirement to meet compliance obligations – you can read more about relevant content in the article How detailed should the EMS be? While compliance obligations may vary from sector to sector and region to region, the importance of recycling effectively remains constant. Imagine these scenarios and the implications if recycling was not carried out effectively, for example:

  • A television manufacturer has a “take back” scheme, but instead of effective recycling, parts are disassembled, and some are illegally sent to a landfill.
  • A battery seller takes back a large percentage of units sold, but cuts corners and sells a percentage of returns to a scrap dealer, with no knowledge of the destination or outcome of these potentially hazardous units.
  • A personal computer manufacturer takes back aged product and chooses a recycling channel that is not up to date. The outcome is that substances that have been declared restricted or dangerous since that unit’s manufacture have now been wrongly returned to the public domain.

It therefore becomes apparent that not using the correct recycling channels – whether intentionally or unknowingly – can have a significantly negative effect on the environment. So, what parts of ISO 14001:2015 should be applied to make sure that the choices we make are sensible and ethical?

ISO 14001: What to note to help your recycling process

ISO 14001 provides a structured approach to handling waste. There are several clauses of the standard that can help point your organization towards ensuring your recycling process is effective. Let’s look at what those clauses are and how they can provide guidance towards this objective.

Section 5.2, Leadership. The organizational leaders are responsible for the performance of the EMS; therefore, it is vital that a statement of pollution prevention exists in the Environmental Policy. Similarly, it is important that the top management ensures that all details are known and that the company’s recycling, whether done in-house or subcontracted, is done correctly. The article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001 can help you learn more about this clause.

Section 6, Planning. There are several sub-sections of clause 6 that are relevant – effective recycling should be part of an organization’s compliance obligations, and part of your planning to achieve environmental objectives, one of which could be 100% recycled product returns. It may also be prudent to highlight your recycling process as an environmental aspect, or even as the subject of an annual risk assessment to ensure that you take the time to review and improve your process.

While it seems you have several options here, it is wise to bear in mind that technology and legislation change constantly, and you need to ensure that your recycling methods are reviewed regularly. Computer and electrical leads are a good example; substances such as PVC that were acceptable a few years ago now are not, as legislation has changed. Likewise, methods of stripping cable have changed with technology in the past few years. Consequently, if you were to perform the same cable recycling process as you did several years ago, not only would your process be costlier and more time-consuming than it was then, but you would also be returning what are now banned substances back into a production chain.

The article Ensuring that environmental objectives are aligned with the company’s strategic direction can help with the theory of this clause.

Section 10, Improvement. As mentioned previously, constant review and action is the most effective way to ensure continual improvement in your EMS, and similar review of your recycling process can ensure that it meets stakeholder needs, complies with legislation, and continually evolves and improves. You can learn more on this topic in the article How to achieve continual improvement according to ISO 14001.

ISO 14001 recycling requirements: How to benefit from them

Recycling for the future

Many environmental bodies have similar opinions on how long some of the earth’s key resources will last at the current rate of consumption, but whatever source you believe, the news is not good. While nature and technology work independently to help regenerate those stocks, recycling diligently is one of the main activities that mankind can perform to try and extend that period. Using ISO 14001 requirements to ensure that the process is effective makes sense not only for your organization, but for the planet we all share, too. Make sure your organization is equipped to play its part.

To see more details of ISO 14001 requirements, download this free white paper: Clause-by-clause explanation of ISO 14001:2015.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.