Understanding how to achieve zero waste in your business can significantly improve your company’s environmental impact, reputation, and cost savings. Zero waste management is a strategy that reduces as much waste as possible by preventing, recycling, reusing, and repurposing waste materials. Diverting waste materials from landfills decreases greenhouse gas emissions, protects the environment, and slows climate change.
As climate change awareness increases, consumers value and support environmentally-responsible companies over companies that do little to reduce waste. Becoming a zero-waste company can increase trust with your target audience and make your products or services more desirable. It can also increase your company’s cost savings and potentially present new revenue possibilities.
Is Zero Waste Possible?
Yes, zero waste is possible, though its purpose is different than what you might think. Becoming a zero-waste business does not mean your company entirely eliminates all waste. Being zero waste indicates your company prioritizes waste reduction and strives toward effective waste management.
A zero-waste plan implements realistic goals to reduce as much waste as possible. While this does not eliminate all waste, it does have a significant impact on the environment.
What Is Zero Waste Management?
Various communities define zero waste management differently, but it is generally a strategy to reduce waste as much as possible. It is a whole-system approach that surpasses recycling and implements a more sustainable waste management process. Businesses that implement the zero waste management process strive to reach the following goals:
Purchasing and using sustainable products
Ensuring they produce products consumers can reuse, recycle or repair
What Is Zero Waste Certification?
To qualify for the TRUE program’s zero waste management certification, which is the first program of its kind, companies must meet several minimum requirements proving their ability to reduce an adequate amount of waste. Your company can qualify for certification if it meets the following requirements:
Policy: A zero waste policy must be in place.
Waste amount: The business must divert 90% or more of its waste from the environment, landfill, and incineration. This means it must reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, or recover 90% of its waste materials for productive use in the economy or nature.
Laws and regulations: The company must follow all local, state, and federal regulations and laws regarding solid waste. It must also comply with all land, water, and air discharge permits to collect, process, and handle waste materials.
Documented data: A company must also present documented data to prove its waste management achievements. This data must prove the company successfully diverted waste during a base year. It must also present measurements following the base year to reflect any changes in the company’s nature, type, or size.
Continuous data: To update certificates, the TRUE program requires companies to submit annual waste diversion data reports that reflect data from all 12 months.
Maximum contamination level: Businesses must maintain contamination levels below 10% for all materials that leave their facilities.
Case study: Each company must also submit a case study detailing its zero waste initiative.
Why Are Zero Waste Management Strategies Important?
Companies that implement zero waste management are essential to the environment and the communities they serve. Responsible waste management benefits businesses in various ways, affecting their finances, reputation, and environmental impact. These strategies are important because they help companies achieve the following benefits:
1. Reduced Greenhouse Gases
Implementing zero waste management saves energy because it reduces energy consumption and the need for landfill space. The zero waste management process requires less energy to extract, process, and transport waste and raw materials. It also reduces the amount of waste and raw materials companies send to landfills, decreasing the greenhouse gases these materials would release as they decompose and break down in the landfills.
2. A Healthier Community
Improving your waste management strategies also improves human health. Diverting waste materials away from landfills increases air quality by reducing the amount of particulate matter produced by organic waste. Particulate matter in the air endangers individuals with breathing conditions such as asthma, but you can help keep these individuals safe with improved waste management.
3. Cost Savings
Achieving zero waste can also help companies reduce costs. Waste management and disposal can cost businesses significant amounts of money that gradually add up. Zero waste management strategies reduce the amount of waste companies need to dispose of, saving them money on these services.
4. A Positive Company Reputation
Consumers appreciate environmentally responsible businesses and are more likely to support green companies. Establishing your company as a zero-waste business presents tangible proof that you strive to positively impact the environment. When you become a zero-waste company, you build trust with your target audience, current and potential customers, local communities, and trading partners.
How Can a Business Reduce Waste?
Understanding how to be a zero-waste company can help you implement the proper waste prevention strategies. Implementing a zero-waste goal for your company can consist of small or large steps toward reducing waste, but the first step is to learn about your available options and potential strategies. To reduce waste in your company, consider the following waste reduction strategies for businesses:
1. Evaluate Your Company’s Current Waste Management Strategies
Before your business can successfully implement zero waste management strategies, you must thoroughly examine your current process to determine what’s working well and areas you can improve. Performing a waste audit involves separating waste materials to determine the following factors:
The type of waste materials your company disposes of
The amount of each waste material your company disposes of
Whether each waste material enters the correct containers
A waste audit can reveal how well your company currently disposes of and recycles waste by examining and measuring waste materials. You may find that your trash container holds a significant amount of materials you could be recycling, or you may find that you dispose of several materials your company could replace with more sustainable alternatives.
2. Implement Waste Prevention
Your company can implement waste prevention by reducing the number of materials you use regularly. For example, you can prevent paper waste by printing documents on both sides of the paper or going entirely paperless with digital documents and communication methods.
You can also prevent waste by using suppliers that use reduced packaging or companies that offer take-back programs. Receiving your supplies in sustainable packaging reduces the amount of styrofoam, cardboard, and mailers you need to dispose of.
3. Determine Which Materials You Can Recycle
Part of zero waste management is recycling or reusing as many materials as possible. Most people think of plastic, paper, glass, and cardboard when they recycle, but you can also recycle other materials. After you complete a waste audit, you may find that your company is placing materials in the trash you could actually recycle, such as single-use plastic masks or light bulbs.
Consider the following recyclable materials that individuals often mistake as trash:
Fluorescent light bulbs
Electronics such as cell phones and computers
While you may not be able to recycle these items in the same container you recycle your typical recyclables, there are ways to recycle or repurpose them. Traditional recycling services typically only recycle items that are easy to handle. Some items such as single-use plastic masks need special handling, so you may need to send certain items to companies that handle specific materials. You can contact your city to learn about the best ways to recycle specific items locally.
4. Determine Which Materials Can Become a New Revenue Opportunity
Here is one of the more creative zero-waste ideas for businesses that can also help you turn a profit. Some recyclable materials can become a new revenue source for your company. While it may be faster to recycle cardboard materials, you may benefit more from selling them as a commodity. If your company disposes of a significant amount of cardboard materials, consider baling and selling them to increase your revenue.
5. Address Organic Materials
Organic materials are one of the most common types of solid waste filling landfills. Addressing organic solid waste is important, especially for food-related businesses and companies with cafeterias. Food waste generates methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) when it decomposes in landfills, and these potent greenhouse gases harm the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the country’s annual food waste and loss equal 170 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, and this waste emits even more CO2 when it rots in landfills. The emitted methane is 84 times more damaging than CO2. Your business can divert organic waste by donating it to organizations or companies that can repurpose it in the following ways:
Feeding hungry people: Shelters, soup kitchens, and food banks can take unused food that is still safe to consume and give it to people in need.
Producing animal feed: Some companies use food waste materials such as animal fats and scraps to produce pet and animal feed.
Converting waste oils for fuel production: Anaerobic digestion can convert food waste so companies can use it for electricity and fuel production.
Composting: Composting is a process that transforms food waste into nutrient-rich soil.
You can also divert organic waste by preventing food waste. Educate your employees about organic waste and how they can prevent it. Encourage employees to be mindful as they pack daily lunches or purchase food. They can take steps to pack or purchase only what they know they can consume to prevent wasting unnecessary food.
6. Educate Employees
Implementing waste reduction strategies for a business requires a company culture shift. To successfully manage waste, educating employees about effective waste management and the company’s overall waste management goals is essential. You should also make sure each employee understands your planned strategies and how they can help the company reach its goals.
Explain to your employees where they should dispose of each waste material, and clearly label containers for easy disposal. You should also ensure all employees understand your plans to prevent waste, such as printing double-sided documents.
Your waste and recycling bin locations are also important. Individuals are more likely to place recyclables in the correct containers if the recycling bins are in a convenient location. Position waste bins in the most effective locations for the best results.
7. Set Goals and Practice Patience
Setting goals keeps your company on track. Consider in which areas of your waste management strategy you can make the most meaningful changes. If you were previously depositing significant amounts of cardboard in the trash, your first goal may be to recycle all of your company’s cardboard materials. You can start by placing a cardboard recycling container in a convenient location that employees can easily access.
You can also set a larger goal and take gradual steps to reach it. Consider materials you can eliminate or replace with more sustainable options. You could set a new office rule encouraging employees to replace printed documents with electronic documents to reduce paper waste. You could also communicate with your suppliers to receive your supply orders in sustainable packaging.
Zero waste management is a strategy that takes time to implement. Avoid giving up if it feels like your company is progressing slowly. Some companies can make significant changes quickly, but most companies need time to gradually transform their waste management practices.
The goal of zero waste management is to decrease waste generation, not eliminate it entirely. Start with small steps and habits that lead to larger transformations over time, and be patient with the process.
Reduce Your Company’s Waste With Service by Medallion
Zero waste management is an environmentally-responsible strategy that can help you positively impact the environment, improve your company’s reputation, and save money. Whether you start with small steps toward your zero waste goals or begin with large company shifts, you can become a zero waste business and significantly impact your company, local community, and the world around you.
Service by Medallion is dedicated to reducing the amount of waste our office locations generate, and we are passionate about helping other companies do the same. Service by Medallion’s offices have reduced generated waste by 80% and strive to produce zero waste by 2023.
Our Waste Management Ambassador program helps companies reduce waste, positively impact the environment, and achieve cost savings. Our experts develop bespoke waste management solutions to significantly transform our clients’ environmental impact. Contact Service by Medallion to learn more about how we can help your business reduce waste and strive toward becoming a zero-waste business.