Zero Waste Business in 3 Steps: A Strategy To Reduce Waste and Costs

Go Zero Waste In 3 Steps

Having a Zero Waste business mindset is becomingly increasingly crucial.

This is because effective waste management has one of the most direct impacts on business operations, the environment, and your bottom line. It is why some of the world’s largest corporations, such as GE and Walmart, are taking the lead and going Zero Waste. You can too. Here’s why and how.

Zero Waste As A Long-Term Strategy to Managing Business Costs

With inflation, rising labor and materials costs, increasing landfill tipping fees, regulations, and other factors, the cost of waste removal is expected to keep going up. Not only are waste costs increasing, but many businesses are also paying more than they need to for waste removal. Why? Because over 62% of what an average business is throwing out as trash is NOT trash at all but recyclables that have value. In addition, the lingering effects of the  China import ban continues to rattle the U.S. recycling market.

Moving towards becoming a Zero Waste business has become the key long-term strategy for managing and controlling costs. It also comes with many additional Zero Waste benefits for businesses that include improved operations, better reputation management and investor rankings, lowered environmental impacts, and more.

Zero Waste is Effective Waste Management

What is Zero Waste? At its core, Zero Waste is a plan with realistic waste reduction goals that you can set and achieve through gradual shifts in mindset and action. Zero Waste is effective waste management.

Remember, being a Zero Waste business also does NOT mean that your company cannot generate more waste than you can fit into a glass mason jar.  This misconception about what Zero Waste means could be holding some businesses back from reaping the benefits of being a Zero Waste business.

How to Become a Zero Waste Business in 3 steps:

Here’s how to jump start the process of becoming a Zero Waste business.

1. Start Moving Towards Zero Waste With a Waste Audit

We cannot emphasize the importance of waste audits.

A waste audit gives you a clear picture of your waste streams — what you are throwing away, what you are recycling or diverting through other means, and how effectively (or not) your waste programs is working. Without an audit, you are just guessing and not knowing.  [Learn more: What Is A Waste Audit? Why Are Waste Audits Important.] 

For example, if your waste audit reveals that a huge percentage of recyclables are ending up in the trash, you can take corrective steps that would not only reduce waste, but might even uncover a sizable revenue stream, as it did for a business in this case study. 

The business was not capturing a massive amount of cardboard and plastic wrap for baling. Instead, these materials were going into the trash. By greatly increasing the amount of baled cardboard and plastic that could be captured and sold, the business was able to open up a new revenue stream, and most importantly, reduce the amount of waste in the trash stream, which also lowered their waste disposal costs.

At another corporate office, we found that the majority of their office waste consisted of plastic bottles. By installing a water filtration machine and encouraging staff to bring their own mugs, they were able to cut down on costs and waste associated with single-use water bottles.

The results of your waste audit can also impact your purchasing decisions, for example, by prompting you to look for suppliers with take-back programs or reduced packaging. One hotel in San Francisco reduced waste by asking their fish supplier to end the use of foam boxes and ice packs (which are not recyclable). Instead, the hotel now receives their fish in compostable waxed boxes with ice. Another hotel started ordering headless pineapples

A waste audit establishes benchmarks that allow you to track your waste and set Zero Waste goals for all aspects of your business, from purchasing to disposal.

2. Set a Zero Waste Business Goal

This means making a commitment to going Zero Waste, and putting a plan in place to deal seriously with waste.

Your goal could be quick and easy to accomplish, or may be long term and ambitious. It could be as simple as planning a series of small steps that would gradually reduce waste and move the business in the direction of Zero Waste, or it could be company-wide strategy that addresses every aspect of your business.

For example, while going entirely paperless might take some time and planning, making sure all printing is double-sided can be accomplished almost immediately to quickly reduce paper use and waste. Go ahead and set both types of goals.

And don’t forget to address organics, especially if your business has a cafeteria or is related to food. Organic materials make up the single largest component of  U.S. municipal solid waste according to the US EPA, and they make up 36% of what is found in most business trash, according to a Great Forest survey of over 100 waste audits conducted nationwide. In fact, organics is the biggest missed opportunity. Given that recycling diversion programs are already in place for many businesses, incremental improvements in recycling are not going to make as much of an impact on increasing diversion within a building as a potential organics program. Every Zero Waste goal should address organics where possible.

Finally, consider setting a goal of certification through a system like the TRUE zero waste programThis program provides a guideline you can follow to set you on a path towards Zero Waste. 

3. Educate and Communicate: Create a Zero Waste Mindset

To achieve Zero Waste, businesses must adopt a Zero Waste mindset and create a culture shift in the workplace.

This means encouraging everyone in the business to rethink the idea of waste. If something cannot be recycled or reused, perhaps the solution is to look for alternatives?

Businesses should encourage employees and vendors to re-examine their sourcing and purchasing, look for sustainable products, investigate innovative ways to reduce waste, and understand best practices for waste management.

Make sure all stakeholders, including staff, janitorial crews, and vendors, understand your Zero Waste goals, and why your business is working to reduce waste, not only to control costs, but also to lessen the impact on the environment and climate change. Show your leadership in the field.

The best program will fail if there is no awareness or education. Stakeholders should understand how your waste and recycling program works. They need to know what can be recycled, where to place those materials, and how to avoid contamination, which can turn recyclables into trash.

In addition, remember to showcase your successes.

Show how much you have achieved. Share facts and figures, or make a big green statement. All this helps to activate cooperation between different stakeholders and departments across your business, and ensure that your Zero Waste efforts receive support from the entire company, especially management. This sets the tone for the business, especially when you are trying to cultivate a Zero Waste mindset. Employees will follow the lead set by management and colleagues around them.

Have questions? Ask the TRUE Zero Waste certified experts at Great Forest. Contact us at

Learn more:

Zero Waste Toolkit for Businesses

What is Zero Waste? Myths and Meaning

Zero Waste Benefits For Businesses

Going Zero Waste – How Small Steps Add Up At The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

Zero Waste Event Planning Guide: 10-Step Checklist

TRUE Zero Waste Certification – A Guide for Businesses

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