Does your business produce as much waste — or perhaps even more waste — today than it did two years ago? Reducing waste not only saves money on costly waste hauling, but also demonstrates industry leadership and contributes to corporate social responsibility by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the global hazards to human health caused by our waste streams.
Waste is cultural. In the U.S., we produce an average of 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day. This figure is nearly double the rate from the early 1960s and nearly double today's rate in Japan. Simple changes in human behavior and business practices can make significant reductions in waste.
Consider the following strategies for your business:
Organic waste is typically the heaviest portion of the waste stream. Heavy waste is costly to remove. Through a robust composting program, the Seattle Mariners saved $114,000 in 2013 waste removal fees at Safeco Field. Plates, forks, cups and napkins at the stadium are all either compostable or recyclable, and the stadium boasts a waste diversion rate over 90 percent, up from just 12 percent in 2005.
Hundreds of office buildings are composting as well, and composting service is available in more than 40 major U.S. markets. It is financially advantageous over landfill-bound waste hauling in areas where a compost facility is within 50 miles. The U.S. Composting Council has good information and resources about composting.
2. Audit your facility
Take a look around your facility and evaluate the supply chain of items that become waste. What consumables do you stock? Can you switch to compostable or at least recyclable products? How are waste bins placed?
Make sure that recycling and composting containers are more convenient than landfill-bound containers, and that labels are easy to read. Signage with photos showing what goes where are highly effective, and hauling companies often provide free templates.
Also, evaluate how full the compactors, dumpsters and recycling containers are prior to pick-up. Facilities that increase their recycling rates often can decrease the frequency of pick-ups, thus saving additional money.
3. Reduce packaging
One third of waste in developed countries comes from packaging alone.
Evaluate the packaging used in your business. Can you eliminate single-use containers? A simple switch from corrugated cardboard to reusable plastic shipping containers saved Pepsi-Cola $44 million.
At LA & SF Specialty, a food distributor with over 350,000 square feet of warehouse space, used cardboard boxes are picked up by drivers and reused in the warehouse. Damaged pallets are also repaired and supplied back into the distribution chain.
4. Eliminate bottled water
Ditch the bottles in favor of filters and glasses.
The petroleum required to manufacture water bottles used in the U.S. is enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year. Bottled water costs 2,000 times more than tap water and it regularly loses taste tests to tap water.
5. Give food waste to pigs
No kidding! This age-old strategy is applicable today and offers significant cost savings.
For example, Barthold Farms offers a food waste program serving over 400 restaurants, grocery stores, school districts and other facilities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Barthold picks up food waste heats it at the farm for safety purposes, then feeds it to pigs. Customers save 50 percent as compared to landfill-bound waste hauling.
6. Go paperless
Technology offers cheaper and better alternatives to using paper.
CBRE recently went paperless at its downtown Los Angeles world headquarters. The office purged over 5 million sheets of paper, saving money on the real estate required for storage, and reducing ongoing printing needs by 50 percent.
Along with other strategies, going paperless is helping the company save 30 percent over a 10-year period on the LA office as compared to a traditional one.
7. Measure it
You can't manage what you don't measure. Make sure your hauler is weighing your waste, then calculate the amount per day, or per person per day.
Share the results, make it tangible and challenge everyone to reduce. Competitions between departments can be motivating.
Also check out the EPA's Waste Reduction Model "WARM" calculator, which allows you to calculate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions based on various waste reduction and diversion scenarios. Per the WARM calculator, a business with 100 tons/year of waste that reduces by 15 percent saves 44 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions. This equals a reduction by the amount emitted from over 18,000 gallons of gasoline.
8. Collect e-waste every day
Electronic waste is highly hazardous. In Guiyu, China, the city with the largest e-waste disposal site in the world, 80 percent of children suffer from respiratory ailments.
Offer a bin where employees can put e-waste — from either home or work — and promote it as a benefit to employees. In additional, make sure that your e-waste vendor is actually recycling, as many sell the waste to overseas entities that do not follow through with recycling. Work with a vendor that is third-party certified through R2 Solutions or E-Stewards.
Remember: a successful waste reduction campaign requires ongoing communication and collaboration between supply chains and employees disposing waste. Make it easy for your company to do the right thing, and save money along the way.
Top image of recycling truck by Paul Vasarhelyi via Shutterstock.