Zero waste management is becoming increasingly popular, easier to achieve and more widespread throughout businesses. It’s being pursued in efforts to ‘green’ business practices and usually involves changes to supply chains, raw material choices and the implementation of waste management machinery.
For some, it may seem like a difficult concept to envision - not anymore. Here are some important considerations on how to achieve zero waste management.
- What is Zero Waste Management?
- Real World Zero Waste Management Examples
- Developing a Zero Waste Strategy
What is Zero Waste Management?
Many people think zero waste is exactly that, producing no waste at all. For individuals, this is quite a clear process and is achieved through actions like not buying products in plastic wrapping.
However, on a business scale, zero waste is a little different. It’s about making sure you’re producing less waste on average and finding new, sustainable avenues for waste disposal. For example, instead of disposing of your polystyrene waste (if you generate it), why not recycle it? Yes, recycling polystyrene is possible.
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as:
The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.
Within a business setting, there’s a specific focus on ‘responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products’. It means finding new ways of disposing or reusing waste if possible. For a business, this can be difficult, as there are some types of waste, such as plastic bags, which aren’t recyclable.
Similarly, businesses who work with toxic materials will find their waste needs to be properly disposed of as, due to its nature, it can’t be recycled. However, in circumstances such as these, the move to a zero waste management methodology should be aimed at improving it.
In essence, businesses need to make sure they’re doing all they can to reduce any environmental impact within their supply chain and waste disposal.
So what does the move towards zero waste management look like in real life?
Real World Zero Waste Management Examples
Here are some examples of what zero waste efforts look like within well-known companies on the market today.
Car manufacturers Subaru are passionately driving the road towards zero waste. For 12 years now, their plants in Japan and the US have been actively reducing their waste, making sure nothing goes to landfill. They achieved this after discovering that up to 96% of all the vehicle components they work with could be recycled. In their work, they’re already:
- Utilising recycled materials.
- Reducing pollutants in car components.
- Improving their disposal techniques.
When it comes to practising what they preach, Google are one of the best. They even released a report on their commitments towards environmental protection, green business practices and proper waste management.
To date, six out of fourteen of their data centres have been converted to zero waste areas. Alongside this, 86% of their non-date centre waste is recycled. In their report they stated: “We’re applying our circular economy principles to design out waste, keep products and materials in use, and promote healthy materials and safe chemistry."
Procter & Gamble
The multinational consumer goods company Procter & Gamble are also on a mission to improve their waste management. At this point in time, manufacturing waste makes up 95% of the company’s overall waste production. In 2018, 85% of their manufacturing plants produced zero waste for landfill.
This is done in many different ways but usually involves reusing waste materials in other industries. For example, in their plants in India, manufacturing scraps are shredded and then compressed to make wall partitions.
Developing a Zero Waste Strategy
Preventing waste production is the main goal, which means that it’s usually the hardest thing to accomplish. This is especially true for businesses, such as those in the food and beverage or retail industries, that work with suppliers. If you’re looking into becoming a sustainable company, developing a zero waste strategy that can be applied through the whole supply chain is a must.
First of all, you need to take an audit of your waste. This can come as part of the wider development of a waste management plan. You need to answer these questions:
- How much waste are you producing?
- What types of waste are you producing?
- What is the current lifecycle of your waste?
When you determine how much waste you’re producing, you can track this generation back to the parts of the production process that produce the most waste. For example, are you ordering raw material that comes packaged in plastic that could be packaged in cardboard? That’s a quick change for businesses that can result in a more eco-friendly waste disposal process.
What types of waste are you producing? Identify these and then do your research on how you can properly dispose of them in the most efficient way possible. Not everything needs to be taken to landfill.
Let’s use our polystyrene example again. Polystyrene is a desirable product in the construction industry and so waste polystyrene can actually be an added revenue stream for your company. Organisations are now investing in polystyrene compactors to turn their waste into bricks that can be sold. Without compactors like these, businesses may need to invest a significant amount in the disposal of polystyrene, which can be awkward to pack due to its variation in size.
Like polystyrene, the lifecycle of each waste type needs to be properly investigated so the best outcome can be achieved. It’s important so it’s worth mentioning twice, not everything needs to be taken to landfill. If you generate food waste, why not try and compost that waste? Without compost, a lot of food waste is just ‘wasted’ energy, ending up in landfill to generate CO2.
Small, easy implementations like these help to green a business. They can also help you financially, especially if you’re creating a new revenue stream out of them.
A great example of this is from PepsiCo. In 2009, they developed a new bottle for their bottled water company, Aquafina. The Eco-fina bottle used 50% less plastic than the previous design. On top of that, they removed the cardboard case from the packaging, saving around 20 million pounds of cardboard each year.
As they changed their designs and packaging, their waste lowered. So too did the costs of raw materials. 10 years later, they announced the bottles would be swapped for aluminium cans. This is seen as an even better move towards lower waste, as in the US, the recycling rate for cans is 68%, compared to just 3% for plastic bottles.
Businesses in the UK can mirror this by engaging their stakeholders, from suppliers to customers, to get on board with improved waste management efforts. Achieving zero waste within a business can be done in many ways, such as removing unnecessary materials from the product’s lifecycle to changing used materials to ones that are more easily recycled.
Zero waste management comes under the wider remit of effective waste management in general. You’ve seen tips on how it can be done and you’ve seen examples of what some of the biggest global businesses are doing - but what can smaller businesses do? For a great example of successful waste management improvements, download our case study.
Waste Management Success for A Leading Auction House Network
We helped one of the UK’s leading auction house networks implement a much-improved waste management system for their site. Inside the study, you’ll be able to see what their previous waste management policy was like, what they needed from a new one and how we helped them to achieve effective waste management solutions.
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