How to Start Your Journey To Zero Waste – Part One

Zero waste has quickly become a buzzword most recently in the waste and recycling industry as many businesses and municipalities are setting ambitious goals to reach zero waste within the next 5-10 years. While it can save you money is it an attainable objective for your business?

What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste involves reviewing the entire life cycle of a product and minimizing waste in all stages of the process; from material selection through to production, packaging, delivery and post-consumer. Zero waste is achieved when 90 percent of waste is diverted from landfill, traditional incineration or the environment. However, Waste to Energy (WtE) has been adopted by many as part of a Zero Waste solution.

When all opportunities for waste minimization have been taken, then the remaining materials should be reused or recycled.

How is Zero Waste Legislated and Supported?

There is currently no state or federal mandate governing how zero waste is implemented, however several organizations have joined together in a network of support for zero waste and have created their own standards and certification system. Zero Waste International Alliance, Grassroots Recycling Network, and Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) are the leading organizations working to develop tangible zero waste systems.

The GBCI launched the first zero waste business certification program, with a measurable standards system similar to LEED certification. By April 2018, they had certified 100 projects under their TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) program. Projects that have gone through the certification process have reported up to $6.5 million in savings and more than 446,000 tons of waste diverted from landfill, traditional incineration and the environment.

How to Make your Business Zero Waste

Zero waste is a systemized approach to resource management, where a product’s entire life cycle is analyzed. We encourage every business to consider these basic steps whether you are working towards the goal of zero waste, or if you simply want to reduce the amount of waste you produce, and the associated costs.

Step #1 – Waste Audit

The first step is to fully understand what your waste stream consists of. Formal waste audits are the best way to go about this. The waste audit process entails:

• Reviewing how your business receives materials
• Tracking how resources are handled within your operations
• Documenting all types and quantities of products and by-products

From these details, you will be able to identify each waste type and find the best way to minimize, recycle or reuse the item. This first audit will also establish a baseline to track future progress against.

Step #2 – Waste Prevention

To minimize the volume and tonnage of total waste that your organization creates, you need to analyze how your product or service is created, and consider what materials or packaging can be reduced or eliminated. Talk with suppliers and distributors to understand how products are produced, packaged, and transported to find ways to reduce unnecessary materials.

Step #3 – Re-purposing and Reuse

Many items in the waste stream can be re-purposed, reused or donated. Identify items such as edible food products, crates and offcuts from the manufacturing process and find businesses or charities that can utilize them. Seek out all available reuse beneficiaries in the local market, such as donating unused food within its use-by date to local food banks.

Step #4 – Recycling

When all of the previous steps have been exhausted, then you should turn your attention to efficiently recycling the remaining portion of your waste. Seek closed-loop recycling solutions wherever possible, where materials are recycled back into similar grades of material (e.g. glass waste recycled back into high quality glass products, rather than being mixed with other materials and recycled into building aggregate).

Look for local recycling and diversion opportunities and actively nurture those relationships for long-term partnerships, such as donating inedible food waste to a local farm for composting.

Step #5 – Creating a Sustainable Culture

The final step involves the creation of a new way of thinking within your business where all employees are focused on minimizing waste. Instead of it being a ‘phase,’ make it an integral part of how you do business, changing your company culture on how to minimize waste into a sustainable one. 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 that requires continuous management. Businesses with multiple locations will need to repeat these steps at each location and take into account how regional and market-specific challenges can affect each site. Environmental legislation can also vary by state, municipality and city, making compliance and waste minimization a challenge for franchises and businesses with locations spanning multiple states.

How National Waste Associates can help

National Waste Associates is a waste management company that specializes in supporting organizations with multiple locations. Our zero waste experts help businesses to reduce their waste costs and increase recycling with innovative techniques and by utilizing our huge network of vendors. We simplify the management process with one monthly invoice, one point of contact, superior auditing and continuous service optimization at each of your locations. We ensure full compliance across your entire operations and provide you with environmental reporting on all your achievements.

For a professional waste and recycling assessment and to learn how we can help you start your journey on the road to zero waste, contact us at 1-888-692-5005 x6, or email

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