By Anna Munie, CHMM
Companies that divert solid waste from landfills are not only protecting the environment. Many are saving substantial amounts of money. Subaru now reaps yearly savings in the millions from its waste diversion programs, for instance. Some are improving manufacturing efficiency. And others are even developing new products: Interface created its entire line of modular re-usable flooring out of a desire to keep waste carpet from landfills.
Getting to zero waste can be a long journey, however. Here are some key steps along the way.
First, a company must perform a detailed audit of its current processes and materials. This includes determining each type of waste that is currently being generated, and then researching alternative options for every single item (recycling, re-use, re-sale, etc.). This may require literal “Dumpster diving” to see first-hand what is going into landfill Dumpsters, as well as time spent performing detailed reviews of both material purchase and waste disposal records. If a material you are purchasing can only be thrown away, switch to a product that has recycling options. (For example, in areas where number 6 plastics cannot be recycled, recycling may be available for number 2 plastics.) Have departments such as purchasing, operations and R&D make a list of all the materials they currently throw away. Then explore alternative options for disposal for each.
Finding solutions by working with suppliers can help a company down the path to zero waste to landfill. Many of the most successful zero waste to landfill companies utilize supplier take-back programs as a significant part of their waste reduction tactics. For example, the Subaru plant in Lafayette, Indiana ships all of its pre-formed Styrofoam casings back to its Japanese supplier for re-use with new engine parts. These closed loop systems can have a huge impact on reducing solid waste to landfill, but they also require additional logistics on both ends, so a company must have a good working relationship with their suppliers. (More on zero-waste car plants here.)
Finally, going 100 percent zero waste to landfill is a long-term goal. It has taken Honda 10 years to achieve zero waste to landfill at its 14 North American manufacturing plants. Set realistic goals and deadlines for waste diversion, including taking into account the type of business you operate. Production and assembly based companies can often get to zero landfill goals faster because they already incorporate lean manufacturing and other structured processes. Retail and service organizations, on the other hand, may see a rougher road initially due to a larger number of locations, variety of goods, and wide range of operations. These companies may need to take more step-by-step reductions such as 25 percent or 50 percent before going for the ultimate goal of 100 percent diversion.
Whether your business is a manufacturer, fabricator, retailer, or service provider, zero waste to landfill is a lofty but worthwhile goal. Follow the right steps and you could see significant business and environmental benefits.
Do you have any waste management success stores or questions to share? Please consider leaving a comment.
Anna Munie is a freelance writer currently working within the fields of sustainability and environmental health and safety management. She has 10 years of experience in hazardous waste management and is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM). When not developing sustainability programs and making sure the Ph.D.’s in her research department don’t blow themselves up, she competes nationally with her horse Lucky in the sport of reining.