GRI Standards 2020 update: Waste

In this article:

  • Introduction
  • Waste-related impacts
  • Circularity Measures
  • Reporting on quantitative data using revised Waste Standards
  • Circularity tools


The Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), GRI’s independent standard-setting body, released a revised Waste standard in May 2020. It is effective for reports published on or after 1 Jan 2022, although earlier adoption is encouraged.

The revision of GRI Standards is done on an ongoing basis to reflect the most recent trends and developments of environmental and social issues in the Standards. In 2018, GSSB revised the standards for Water and Effluents and Occupational Health and Safety. In 2019, a new standard for Tax transparency was released.

In particular, the revised waste standard replaces the older version which was based on an older paradigm in which waste was assumed to have no economic value. The revised standard also encourages disclosure relating to circularity. Organisation are now required to report, among others:

  • significant actual and potential waste-related impacts (GRI 306-1),
  • actions, including circularity measures, taken to prevent waste generation in the organisation’s own activities and upstream and downstream in its value chain, and to manage significant impacts from waste generated (GRI 306-2)

In this article, we discuss two key terms used in the standard in more detail: “waste-related impacts” and “circularity measures”. For more experienced GRI users, we have also summed up the changes in quantitative information required in the revised Standard.


Waste-related Impacts

Waste-related ‘impact’ refers to the effect of the waste generated by an organisation on the economy, the environment, and/or society.

Typically, organisations consider their waste generated in their operations and sometimes in their supply chain. In life cycle thinking, organisations also take into account the end-of-life of their products and services, and as a result their (waste) responsibility and impact do not end at the point of sale, but the point in time when the customer no longer finds value in the product. They would think about the amount of waste they pass on to their customers.

Waste-related impacts on people and the environment would depend on how the waste is transported, where it ends up and how it is treated (or not). GRI for instance gave the example of threat of marine pollution resulting from leakage of discarded plastic packaging into waterbodies. In Singapore, for example, many organisations do not know what happens to their waste or recyclables after they are being collected by third-party waste collectors, and therefore have little visibility on their waste impact at the disposal stage. GRI now requires organisations that engage a third party to manage its waste to describe “the processes used to determine whether the third party manages the waste in line with contractual or legislative obligations”.

To start understanding your waste-related impacts, you could start collecting data on the amount of materials used and waste generated in your value chain, as well as the properties of these inputs and outputs that limit or enable their recovery (e.g. reuse, recycle) or durability.


Circularity measures

To understand the concept of circularity, first consider a typical production process: raw materials are taken from the environment, produced into goods and services, used by consumers, before it is thrown away as waste. In this linear model, the value of the materials becomes lost at the end of its use. In a circular model, on the other hand, the value of the materials gets retained as long as possible, through measures such as reusing, remaking or recycling. These circularity measures are better for the environment because by keeping materials in use as long as possible, they prevent waste accumulation and resource depletion.


Source: Paia Consulting, adapted from Catherine Weetman (2016)


Tracking material flow(s) forces an organisation to examine its value chain – activities that convert input into output by adding value. Typically this gives better clarity on the life cycle of your products and services, including your inputs and suppliers upstream, and your outputs and customers downstream. Such life cycle thinking not only helps organisations identify causes of waste generation but is also an opportunity to improve process efficiencies and rethink business models.


Reporting on quantitative data using revised Waste Standards

For experienced GRI users, here are the key changes:


1. Effluents are no longer reported under “waste”
For organisations reporting on water discharge or effluents (2016 GRI 306-1 or 306-5), to report them under the 2018 GRI 303: Water instead of the 2016 GRI 306: Waste and Effluents.

For organisations reporting on spills, to continue reporting under the 2016 standard, but to look out for the upcoming Spills and Leaks standard that will be developed in the next few years. The indicator (2016 GRI 306-3) will be withdrawn on 1 Jan 2022.


2. Waste data is to be broken down into generation (306-3), diverted from disposal (306-4) and directed to disposal (306-5), reflecting the waste management hierarchy
GRI introduces the waste management hierarchy in this standard. Waste prevention, or waste reduction, is the most preferable option in the hierarchy, as it prevents the resulting impacts on the environment and human health. It is then followed by followed by recovery operations that divert waste from being sent to landfill or incineration, such as preparation for reuse, recycling. Disposal is the least preferable option in the waste management hierarchy as it is associated with the most negative impacts on the environment.


Source: EPA

Under each waste management option, the revised standard has a few broad categories for disposal methods:

  • Diverted from disposal, by recovery operations such as:
    • Preparation for reuse
    • Recycling (includes downcycling, upcycling, composting, or anaerobic digestion)
  • Directed to disposal, by operations such as:
    • Incineration (with energy recovery)
    • Incineration (without energy recovery)
    • Landfilling

To note, the definition of recovery is slightly different from that of the previous standard.

There is also requirement for additional disclosure of whether the waste is diverted on-site of off-site, to show the extent to which the organisation knows how its waste is managed.


3. Transportation of hazardous waste is no longer a standalone metric

In the revised Standards, transportation is to be disclosed under “waste management by third parties” (GRI306-2).


Circularity tools

For companies interested in waste reduction and circularity, here are some tools that may be helpful:


Circulytics by Ellen MacArthur Foundation

This company-level measuring tool reveals the extent to which a company has achieved circularity across its entire operations. It does this by using the widest set of indicators currently available: enablers and outcomes.


Circular Transition Indicators (CTI) by World Business Council for Sustainable Development

A framework to measure circularity, the Circular Transition Indicators (CTI) is a simple, objective and quantitative framework that can be applied to businesses of all industries, sizes, value chain positions and geographies.


Paia Consulting can support you in your waste reporting and management strategy.


We have extensive experience working with NEA and Singapore companies on their sustainability, waste and recycling. Our waste services include data measurement and reporting, conducting waste audits, and creating waste reduction plans. If you are interested in further discussion of this topic, contact us at