Planning for tough times.

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How Zero Waste can help your business turn waste into savings and reach your environmental goals.

Welcome to the Zero Waste for Businesses and Organizations Blog Series. The first one of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador. The goal of this blog series is to start, promote, and facilitate the conversation about zero waste and the circular economy in our province. Each blog will show businesses and organizations the value of zero waste and its connection with the circular economy. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the circular economy. In my next blog, I’ll cover it in detail.

Circular economy might sound like a too-far-away-complex goal, but zero waste can provide simple and practical steps to get started. However, the term zero waste can bring confusion too.

To clarify, this blog starts with a brief explanation of the difference between waste management and zero waste. Then it follows with a short list of key zero waste strategies that your business can use to start moving towards circularity by closing loops, turning waste into savings, and creating potential revenue streams while contributing to a better planet and society.


Waste Management vs. Zero Waste

One way to look at the difference between waste management and zero waste is by reviewing their core question and answer:

Waste ManagementZero Waste
Q: What can we do with the waste we produce? Q: How can we prevent waste from happening in the first place? 
A: Recycle, compost, or burn as
much as you can. 
A: Go beyond recycling, composting,
and burning by Redesigning,
Rethinking, Reducing, Reusing (and some other Rs). 
A key difference between waste management and zero waste

Waste management deals with the downstream waste and assumes that natural resources are infinite and waste will continue to increase and its management will become more challenging and costly. Consequently, there’s an emphasis on investing in new infrastructure, technology and programs to better recycle or landfill our never-ending waste.

On the other hand, zero waste goes upstream and raises awareness of the limited availability of natural resources, current business practices, and the need to prevent waste from happening in the first place. A zero waste approach helps you see your discards as “resources” not as “waste.”  And to consider not only the visible physical resources, but also the “hidden” costs related to financial and human resources.

Zero Waste Hierarchy of Highest and Best Use 7.0. Source: Zero Waste International Alliance

In his book “The New Sustainability Advantage”, Bob Willard, a global sustainability speaker, argues that costs associated with waste usually include the cost of: 

  • materials purchased but later wasted (packaging, raw and auxiliary materials, etc.)
    • 60 percent of total costs
  • processing the material before it is wasted (water, energy, labour, etc.)
    • 20 percent of total costs
  • services for waste prevention and environmental management (external services for environmental management, research on waste issues, etc.)
    • 10 percent of total costs
  • downstream management (storage, disposal, tipping fees, liability, etc.).
    • 10 percent of total costs

Here is a neat chart that can make those numbers easier to digest:

Costs associated with waste from purchase to discard. Pie Chart by author using original data from Bob Willard’s Business Case Simulator. See text above for more details.

These numbers can give you a pretty good picture of the relationship between waste and costs. Next, I’ll show you some of the zero waste strategies that can help you quantify both waste and costs so you can start finding ways to turn waste into savings and potential revenue streams, while contributing to a better planet and society.


How zero waste can help your organization during COVID times

While the pandemic has hit every part of our society, it has also become an opportunity for businesses to review Willard’s numbers, rethink practices, reduce costs, and be agents of change by influencing everyone throughout the value chain from suppliers to customers to regulators. 

A zero waste approach offers strategies that can help you rethink your business so that you can find ways to save money and make a better planet. Here are a few of them, some are easy, some are more complex, but all of them will give you a different perspective and way to start your zero waste journey:

Conduct a Zero Waste Audit. You can audit your discarded materials (waste, recyclables, and compostables) and the purchasing agreements. Together, the audits give you a snapshot of the input and output of materials in your facility and help you identify ways to prevent waste in the first place, save money, and reduce pollution that impacts the environment and community health. If your business has done it before, make sure you repeat it at least once a year to measure progress.

Review garbage bin sizes inside and outside the facility. Chances are, you’ll be able to reduce their number, switch to smaller sizes, and downsize dumpsters accordingly. This way, dumpsters can be hauled once completely full and thus, you’ll avoid unnecessary hauling costs.

Implement tracking programs. This will eliminate waste before it occurs. In the food industry, there are many systems that track inventory, which helps avoid food waste.

Review your supply chain. More often than not, you won’t be able to reduce your waste by yourself. Reviewing your supply chain will help you identify where materials are coming from. And to reduce it, you will need to work with your suppliers and figure out ways that can benefit both parties.


SUMMARY

This very first blog about zero waste and circularity in Newfoundland and Labrador, has shown you why moving from waste management to zero waste and circularity is good for the environment, our society and your business, especially during these tough times. Zero waste gets you thinking about the limited availability of natural resources, the impact of current business practices, and the why and how you can start finding the value of your discards and contributing to a better planet and society.

What challenges does your business face in moving towards zero waste? Please share your thoughts in the box below

Photo of Viviana smiling. She has dark long hair, brown eyes and brown skin

Viviana Ramirez-Luna is an Environmental Scientist from Memorial University of NL, a Zero Waste Advisor with TRUE (Green Business Certification Inc.), and Associate of Zero Waste Canada.

She’s the founder of Planeet Consulting, a St. John’s-based firm whose mission is to move Newfoundland and Labrador towards the circular economy and society.

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