Tag Archives: is it possible to achieve zero waste

Part #1 – A new look at Zero Waste


zero waste

I often hear the term “Zero Waste” in sustainability conversations, but what is zero waste and how can a business achieve it?
We must all understand that any living organism creates bi-products, commonly referred to as “waste”. From a plant that produces oxygen and biomass, to animals that produce carbon dioxide and excrement and finally humans that create immense amounts of waste. Over millions of years the earth has dealt with these “bi-products” of life and created systems to convert this bi-product into a value. In nature there is no such word as waste.

For humans, waste is a constant reality. Our ingenuity has created processes and materials that do not integrate with the natural cycles and have no value – this is not a bi-product – it is simply waste. Plastics are a sore example of human waste. Don’t misunderstand my intentions, I do not mean to state that our products are bad, just that we do not handle them properly. For example: in 2009 the US generated 30 million tons of plastic waste. Over 90% of this plastic is buried in our landfills filling up over 220,000,000 cubic yards of space. Every year this number compounds and we are forced to continue finding new space to bury this waste.

Keep in mind that waste is simply a by-product that has no value, and EVERY system has byproducts. Let’s look at a few ways companies today can create products and processes that produce byproduct, but no waste.
1. Reduce material use – I know! Reducing does not prevent waste – but it does reduce the amount of waste you will need to address so it is key to sustainability and zero waste. Can you buy in concentrate or bulk? How about light weighting your packaging? Can you reduce multiple layers of packaging to just one?

2. Recycle – Create products that integrate whenever possible with community collected recycling programs. Look internally at your processes to determine where you can re-use scrap or send to recyclers (many recyclers pay top dollar for industrial recyclables). Most common recycled plastics are PET and HDPE.
3. Evaluate – Audit your systems regularly to prevent excess energy use, unnecessary product waste, and unturned inventory. A small air leak in a compressed system is often overlooked. Can you continue using existing product labels rather than wasting them when doing a redesign?
4. Educate – Educate your staff and customers on how to create less waste. Implement educational programs and reward success.
5. Determine product end of life scenarios – Where does your product go after use? Ensure your product is designed for that end of life and creates a value in that scenario. In the example of plastics going to a landfill, ensure those plastics are biodegradable in the landfill. (stay tuned next month to learn how biodegradable can create zero waste)

This is just a brief listing of areas you can change to create zero waste in your environment. Keep in mind that you will always have byproducts, but you need not have waste. Next month we will explore in more detail how biodegradable ENSO plastics are part of the zero waste solution.