Sustainability 101

What Is Zero Waste? And Why Are Some Businesses Afraid of it?

An increasing number of businesses are moving towards Zero Waste
An increasing number of businesses are moving towards Zero Waste

Who’s Afraid of Zero Waste?

Turns out, some businesses are. And this fear of committing to zero waste is holding them back from reaping the benefits. A lack of of clarity about what zero waste really means is part of the problem. So let’s start demystifying the process.

What Is Zero Waste?

Is it the same thing as “zero waste to landfill”?  Does zero waste mean producing no waste? While exact definitions of the terms related to zero waste may vary,  the general benefits remain the same.

To put it simply, zero waste means working towards producing less waste in the first place, and reducing waste through recycling and reuse, with the ultimate goal of closing that loop.

Going zero waste does NOT mean that you will be under pressure to produce no waste at all immediately. 

This misconception is what is putting off some businesses from even considering going zero waste. They may think that zero waste is an unachievable goal that is doomed to fail if they try.  So they don’t.

In reality, moving towards zero waste means that you commit to putting a plan in place to deal seriously with waste. And all this begins with taking a closer look at your current waste management practices, including what you throw away, your current waste and recycling programs, and even what you source.

Effective waste management is one the most impactful things you can do to improve your business operations, achieve your sustainability goals, and control your waste costs, which are going up every year.

So in a sense, going zero waste means effective waste management.

Zero Waste Increasingly Crucial

Here are a few reasons why moving towards zero waste is crucial for businesses large and small.

1)  Waste = Loss Value

Going zero waste will help businesses rescue the value in what they are landfilling.

For example, cardboard can make up 50% of a retailer’s waste stream. If diverted from the landfill,  cardboard can be sold as commodity, and that can lead to reduced waste costs for the business. Needless to say, the less your throw out, the less you pay to have your trash removed.

“The World Bank estimated that the world produced 3.5 million tons of solid waste per day in 2010, and that amount is projected to double by 2025. That’s not simply a lot of trash, it’s a lot of lost value – as much as $2.6 trillion annually in raw materials and residual worth. Landfill waste is a double loss: wasted product, and wasted natural resources to produce the product in the first place. The world can’t afford to use up water, forests, food, minerals, fossil fuels or any natural resource in this way.”Toward A Zero Waste Future, Walmart Sustainability Report.

2) Get Ahead Of The Competition

As more companies begin to realize the benefits of going zero waste, those that don’t will be left behind.

They will lose the value of what they are landfilling, pay higher costs in waste removal, incur a bigger carbon footprint, and suffer in their corporate social responsibility reputation as well as employee/customer goodwill.

In the long term, they will slip behind in operational efficiency and become less competitive. For companies and cities alike,  it is the future of waste management.

3) Less Options, Increasing Costs

While we are not running out of landfills nationwide in the U.S., some states are reaching capacity. For example, according to the BioCycle report “The State of Garbage in America,” Arkansas reportedly has enough capacity to last 600 years while New York only has 25 years left. While more landfills can be created, the reality is that landfill fees and waste hauling costs will be going up. Waste is big business.

4) Environmental Costs

Landfills release methane and carbon dioxide from the decomposition of organic materials, contributing to climate change. But even before your trash reaches the landfill, damage is already being done.

“Thirty years ago, a bag of garbage dropped down a chute in Manhattan would have traveled just a few miles by barge to the aptly named Fresh Kills facility on Staten Island. (Until 1931, the city dumped most of its trash in the Atlantic Ocean.) Today, it would likely make an overland journey to Ohio, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia. One ton of garbage traveling 500 miles by train from New York to the Mountain State would generate 115 pounds of carbon dioxide. If New York City shipped all of its trash to West Virginia the commute would produce 760,000 tons of CO2 each year.”Go West, Garbage Can!, Slate.

Similarly, even recycling has an environmental costs incurred from transportation and processing.

So the key for businesses going zero waste is to work on reduce and reuse first.

Start Moving TOWARDS Zero Waste Today

Remember, it all starts with the decision to move TOWARDS Zero Waste as a goal. And the first step of that plan is to do a waste audit to understand what you are throwing away.

Want to start moving towards Zero Waste? It’s simple. Here’s how to move towards Zero waste in 3 steps. Have more questions? Ask your Great Forest representative for help to get your started.

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