The Journey to Zero Waste

It’s become a buzzword in the waste and recycling industry. Both businesses and municipalities are setting goals to achieve Zero Waste. But is what the name implies, Zero Waste truly possible in business and manufacturing?

When trying to understand Zero Waste, we run into a variety of ideas and explanations, but for our purposes, we are referring to Zero Waste programs in businesses. ZERO WASTE is achieved when at least 90% of waste is diverted from landfills, incineration and the environment. The strategy is to look at the entire life cycle of a product and to minimize waste in all stages of the process; from material selection, production, packaging, delivery and post-consumer.

There is currently no official governing authority, state or federal mandate for how Zero Waste is implemented or certified, however several organizations have joined together in a network of support for Zero Waste and have created their own definition, standards and certification system. The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), the Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN), and the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC), are the leading educators helping to develop a more tangible system for understanding and managing Zero Waste. Zero Waste practices continue to be a hot topic at waste management, recycling and sustainability conferences around the globe. The USZWBC launched the first ZERO WASTE business certification program in 2013 with a measurable standards system similar to LEED certification. They appear to be active with the most recent Zero Waste designation given to Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, California on November 17th, 2014.

Choosing to become a Zero Waste business takes great operational ambition. Zero Waste is a whole waste system approach where a product’s entire life cycle is analyzed. We outline some basic steps that we encourage every business to consider whether you are working towards a Zero Waste goal or you simply want to reduce waste and waste costs.

  • Step #1 – Waste Audit

The first step is to fully understand your waste stream and formal waste audits are the best way to go about this. Learning how your business receives materials, tracking how all waste is handled and documenting all types and quantities of products and by-products.  It’s from these details that you will begin to compartmentalize each type of waste to find the best way to minimize, recycle or reuse the item. This thorough audit will help to establish a baseline for future comparison/progress reports.

  • Step #2 – Waste Prevention

Analyzing how your product or service is created and what materials or packaging can be reduced or eliminated.  Talk with vendor partners to examine how products are packaged, travel and work to find ways to reduce unnecessary materials.

  • Step #3 – Reuse and Re-purposing

Many items in the waste stream can be re-purposed, reused or donated. Identify items such as food products or crates and find new homes and uses for them. Seek out all available recycling and diversion opportunities in the local market and actively nurture those relationships for long-term partnerships, such as donating to a local food bank or farm.

  • Step #4 – Sustainable Culture

The final step involves the creation of a new way of thinking within your business where all employees are on board with minimizing waste.  Instead of a ‘phase,’ it’s now an integral part of how you, ‘do business.’  Your company culture is now sustainable.  Ongoing waste audits, designated team leaders and having a clear collection system for all waste items help to keep your business lean and green.

Zero Waste is a process and requires continuous management. For businesses with multiple locations, you’ll want to repeat the steps at each location. Geographical, regional and market fluctuations and constraints affect how each site handles its own waste. Also important to remember; recycling and environmental laws are state specific, adding to the unique challenge to stay compliant for franchises and businesses with locations in multiple states.

National Waste Associates is a consultant/management arm of businesses and companies with multiple locations.  We provide valuable consultation on individual projects and Zero Waste goals. Our focus is to reduce waste costs and increase recycling through our innovative techniques and network of vendors. We simplify waste and recycling with one monthly invoice, one point of contact, superior auditing and continuous optimization of services at each of your locations. We keep you compliant to localized recycling laws and provide you with environmental reporting on all your achievements. For a professional waste and recycling assessment and to learn more about how we can help you better manage your waste and recycling, contact us at 1-888-692-5005, or email