Cities and countries have taken the lead on high-profile zero waste programs, but individual companies are also improving customer loyalty and lowering costs by branding themselves as green enterprises and establishing company-wide zero waste policies and initiatives.
Subaru is just one of many companies leading the charge on zero waste. The Japanese automobile manufacturing company reuses or recycles everything. Its three plants (two in Japan and one in the U.S.) have not sent a single item to the landfill in 12 years. When the U.S. plant went zero waste, Subaru saw savings of $1-2 million annually.
Other top zero waste companies include Google, Sierra Nevada, and Unilever. Google has instituted a composting program, Sierra Nevada sends all used brewing ingredients to local cattle farms for feed, and Unilever actually created new technology to address its packaging problems.
Your business doesn’t need the global presence that these enterprises have to go zero waste, however. Small businesses can reduce and even eliminate waste as well.
What is zero waste?
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines the term to mean “The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning, and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
In plain language, zero waste means that nothing goes to the landfill, gets incinerated, or winds up in the ocean. It ALL gets reused or recycled.
The Toronto Environmental Alliance takes the explanation further. “A zero-waste future is one in which goods are shared, designed to last and be easily recycled and repurposed. It’s about building a vibrant circular economy, where unwanted materials are not disposed in a landfill or incinerator, but become the raw materials for something new.”
Why does your company need a zero-waste initiative and policy?
The main benefit to zero waste is the difference your company can make for your neighbors and other citizens of the world, especially children and those yet unborn. Zero waste also helps eliminate many of the environmental affects that further distress the lives of people living in poverty.
There is an argument to be made from self-interest, too, however. Zero waste companies can reduce their costs, improve customer relations, and streamline the supply chain, growing their bottom lines.
Ready to take your enterprise into a greener future? Here’s how.
Five Steps for Implementing a Zero Waste Policy in Your Company
1. Start with waste characterization.
Like any other planning process, your first step in creating a zero-waste policy is to figure out what your company is already doing. Waste characterization is simply dumpster diving to find out what you’re throwing away.
A local recycling company can pull paper, glass, food waste, and other recyclables out of your waste stream so you know what you’re tossing that you could be reusing or recycling. Once the company completes the waste characterization process, they will provide you with a full professional audit of your trash.
2. Identify areas to improve for waste management.
Now that you know what you’re dumping, you can figure out how to reduce your office’s waste stream. If a lot of disposable cups are showing up, could you replace them with ceramic ones? If you see a lot of glass, check whether you have a glass recycling container (and if so, whether it is convenient for your employees to use). Did the recycling company find a lot of wasted food? Maybe you’re over-ordering for staff lunches or office parties.
3. Engage your staff.
Your company’s zero waste policy is only as effective as the people who are implementing it. Name a team of zero waste initiative champions who can help figure out practical ways to encourage office members to keep products out of the landfill or incinerator.
An interdisciplinary team with a leader who takes a project management approach to the problem can often find effective ways to motivate the entire staff. This team can help determine what policies are actionable and which ones employees are likely to ignore.
4. Invest in Earth-friendly products.
Depending on what your waste characterization audit determines, you may or may not need to spend the money on Earth-friendly products. In most cases, however, you will need to make at least a few purchases.
Ceramic cups, cloth napkins, metal flatware, green cleaning products, and reusable water bottles can save money (along with the environment) after just a few uses. Going zero waste doesn’t mean you to have buy expensive products that were handcrafted from fair-trade bamboo. Just purchase office supplies that will last a long time before you have to discard them.
5. Compost your leftovers.
Americans throw away $160 billion’s worth of food every year. That’s about 40% of what we buy. Globally, people throw away almost 30% of what they grow.
Though older Americans are often conscious about food waste, many younger workers who are only familiar with well-stocked shelves of inexpensive foodstuff may not think about the effects of food waste. All that disposed food turns into methane gas, which is 20 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Unsurprisingly, one of the best solutions to this problem is composting. If you have the space and time, you can do it yourself. If not, hire a company to pick up unused food, deliver it to food banks and shelters, and use the leftovers in composting heaps. It’s easy, efficient, and—given how many people go hungry every day—the moral thing to do.
Technology can be a big help when going green, too. Sensa Networks offers fullness monitoring solutions that provide an Internet-of-Things approach to waste management using an innovative platform. These monitors eliminate the cost of unnecessary waste collections while reducing your organization’s carbon footprint. Sensa also offers remote diagnostics and insight reporting that can help you optimize your business’s waste management expenditures.
Zero waste management may seem like an unattainable goal, but a few small steps can take your company surprisingly far towards helping the natural world get back on its feet. And you just might improve your brand’s reputation and save cash while you’re doing it.