Good Magazine puts out monthly challenges to it’s readers. The month of July, they are focusing on zero waste, with a challenge of only generating one paper bag’s worth of trash each week (including what they toss at home and the office). The idea of the paper bag is really just a learning tool. When you can actually see and measure how much you are throwing away, suddenly you become much more attuned to the simple steps and solutions to remedy the problem. Most of their readers are thinking of ideas like bringing their reusable mug to Starbucks, or their reusable water bottle to the office.
But companies can play a much bigger role in zero waste. Most people don’t realize that for every 1 pound of trash generated by households in the US, there are over 40 pounds generated by business and industry (based on EPA data). Companies can take this zero waste challenge too. Here are some ideas:
1. Measure It: If you aren’t already measuring how much waste is generated from each facility, each assembly line, etc – then start measuring. The more data you have, the more likely you will see the opportunities. (Hint: If your company needs a tool to measure and track across your distributed enterprise and supply chain, check out RecycleMatch’s new enterprise software platform)
2. Get Dirty: Recently I heard Steve Walker, Burt’s Bees Manager of Environmental Sustainability, tell an audience that in their journey for zero waste, they actually had a dumpster diving day. They dumped out all of the contents of their full dumpster on big sheets of plastic in their parking lot. Then took all of the employees out to sort the materials into large piles – recyclable, compostable, reusable, and then the rest that they didn’t know how to deal with other than landfill or waste to energy. Everyone was dressed in plastic gloves and work clothes, and after a few jokes they started getting comfortable. Even the staunchest skeptics started to realize from hands on experience that it isn’t that hard to learn how to manage their resources better.
3. Monetize It: Most people think that it is cheaper to landfill than it is to go to zero waste. That is not true. GM announced that they made $2.5 Billion from recyclables since 2007, and Walmart, which has invested heavily in new solutions for organic wastes, says even with their heavy upfront investments that their zero waste efforts are saving them money and are now netting more in revenues than in costs. (Hint: If your company is looking for a system that can maximize the value of all of your byproducts, check out RecycleMatch’s enterprise software platform that includes a private marketplace where companies can control their own RFPs, auctions and sealed bid sales online.)
4. Work Together: In many companies, knowledge about zero waste best practices can get trapped. We can accomplish much more by sharing best practices internally to get to zero waste faster. And, we can also work within our supply chains and industry associations to fix problems that affect us all. (Hint: Not to sound like a broken record, but ask us about our open-sourced tools that are part of our new enterprise software platform which include a Materials Wiki and Best Practices Database. Our tools can also be applied to solve industry and supply chain issues around zero waste.)
5. Follow the Trail: If you follow the lifecycle of the products that your company produces, you may find that you are generating unseen waste. Even if it’s not in your company’s dumpster, companies are starting to consider product stewardship including waste generated by your suppliers on your behalf, and waste generated during and after the product is being used. Sometimes the biggest opportunities and threats are not where we think they are.
My guess is that if you are reading this blog you are already doing some of this work in your organization. Kudos!
If you find that the work is harder than it needs to be because you are tracking and managing using spreadsheets and emails, consider learning more about RecycleMatch’s new enterprise software platform to manage, track and monetize your zero waste efforts and maximize the value of your byproduct materials.
Personal Notes: When Brooke first approached Chad about quitting his job to start this company, he wasn’t really that focused on waste. He didn’t even recycle at home. But, once he researched the problem, he realized that companies were spending $22 Billion a year in the US to landfill materials that industry leaders had estimated were worth $20-40 Billion. And, he saw communities struggling to meet budget expectations while at the same time not optimizing the value of their recyclable materials. Needless to say, Chad jumped at the opportunity to start RecycleMatch because of the environmental and financial opportunities. But he and his family also made some big changes. Early on, they did the No Impact Man challenge and got serious about their recycling. Chad got involved and was selected to be on our community’s municipal waste and recycling board. And, none of that would have happened if he hadn’t been forced to consider new data that he had not previously considered.
The GOOD 30 Day Challenge – Waste Less