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UL Environment aims to be the cop for zero waste initiatives

<p>As landfill waste reduction strategies become a part of the corporate norm, can UL Environment pioneer new validation standards?</p>

Nearly every week, it seems at least one prominent company is announcing a new landfill waste reduction strategy. But finding out whether those initiatives are paying off can be a challenge.

UL Environment hopes to provide some clarity in this emerging area by pioneering a series of new environmental claim validation services for businesses.

The business unit of Underwriters Laboratories, famous for its product-safety certification, is now validating the variety of methods that companies use to minimize the amount of waste sent to landfills -- everything from energy creation through waste incineration to recycling and composting.

The UL Environment validation is offered at three levels:

  • Companies that achieve a landfill diversion rate of 100 percent qualify for its Zero Waste to Landfill validation.
  • Companies that achieve a diversion rate of 98 percent or greater qualify for the Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill validation.
  • Those companies that achieve a diversion rate of 80 percent or greater qualify for a Landfill Waste Diversion validation.

From DuPont to Walmart, major corporations are beginning to roll out new policies that address landfill waste reduction. As new initiatives continue to be developed by companies large and small, there is a growing need for third-party validation of landfill waste diversion claims, said Angela Griffiths, director of operations for UL Environment.

"We found that when it comes to standards in zero waste, there's not a lot of consistency across the board," she said. "There are no federal standards, for example.”

While there are a scattering of private consulting firms offering certification for landfill waste diversion, UL is one of the first major organizations stepping into the certification realm.

"We offer a very transparent service," Griffiths said. "Our protocol is publicized so people understand what validation means," she said.

Validation from UL Environment will help companies promote their efforts to reduce landfill waste, said Griffiths.

A secondary goal for the new program is helping to develop a set of validation standards for landfill waste reduction, said Bill Hoffman, an environmental scientist in green chemistry at UL Environment.

"In reality, zero waste may mean different things to different companies," he said. "Sometimes it's 10 percent of waste that's going into landfills, sometimes it's all of the waste. We hope that by offering our validations we are giving some consistency to the marketplace."

Hoffman said he hopes UL Environment can also create a stronger market for recycled material.

"One company's waste is another company's raw material," he said.

As part of the development process for the validation service, UL reached out to its customers.

"We've been working for quite a while now with several different companies getting important feedback on how waste reductions work for them," said Hoffman, who noted that UL Environment has worked for about a year developing the services.
"Part of the process was fairly complicated because there's not a lot of precedent on how you measure and document zero waste," he said.

The price point for the UL Environment validation starts at a few thousand dollars and goes up depending on the size of the business, Hoffman said. The validation process could take as little as a few days if a company has everything in place or longer if a company has a fairly complicated process.

"The basic aspect is that we'll look at the flow of material -- everything that's going in and everything that's out," Griffiths said.

She said UL staff will pore over company documents and conduct site visits in making their validation determinations. An annual review will also be conducted in order to keep UL Environment's validations current.

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