Question: We want to start a waste reduction program and eventually become a zero-landfill facility, but we’re not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions?
Answer: What an inspiring and ambitious goal! If your company’s management team is on board (and they should be because waste reduction will save money), then you’ve already started a program.
You should also put a team together to oversee company waste reduction efforts. If your company is too small to have an entire team dedicated to waste reduction, look for one or two volunteers who are passionate about the cause.
It’s also important early on to perform a waste assessment to see what wastes you have, where they are and where they go. You can’t reduce a waste stream if you aren’t aware it exists. Knowing how many dumpsters of garbage are hauled offsite each month is a good starting point, but also remember to look for non-traditional forms of wastes, such as energy (lighting and heating) and employee paper usage.
From there, figure out what waste streams you can eliminate, reduce, reuse or recycle. A waste assessment might also uncover some processes or materials you can replace with more environmentally-friendly or non-hazardous ones.
Eliminating or significantly reducing a waste stream will have the most impact on your company and get you on your way to becoming a zero-landfill facility. But if you can’t eliminate or reduce a waste stream, consider whether you can convert it into energy.
Converting waste to energy is a form of recycling that safeguards the environment in two ways. First, it uses wastes instead of natural resources to produce energy. Second, it eliminates the need for landfilling the wastes. For facilities that use waste to energy to recycle hazardous wastes, an added benefit is that this process thermally destroys the wastes, helping to prevent future liability.
You can also look into waste exchange programs. Most states sponsor waste exchange (or materials exchange) programs that allow generators to list their production-related byproducts for anyone who may need the materials. These programs have kept countless tons of waste out of landfills.
Waste reduction and becoming a zero-landfill facility are obtainable goals, but it’s important to remember that they don’t happen overnight. Like most plans, starting small and making incremental changes are keys to creating a successful program that doesn’t fizzle out after a few months or years.
You tell us: How did your company get started with a waste reduction program? Do you have any other tips?