Zero Waste: A Possibility or Lip Service?

Readers might find this title somewhat ironic considering my suggestion that I can help you achieve your zero waste goals. Those goals are often nebulous even if your company’s  corporate heart is the right place. And I do not promise that zero waste is a possibility. Instead, I help you with the conversation, an internal dialogue about sustainability, recycling, reusing and yes, how to get closer to zero waste.

Companies of any size know that #zerowaste is not something they will ever see come to wholly to fruition and yet the message suggests it can happen. So is zero waste possible? Or is it just lip service to appease the community, their shareholders and the media?

Why is it so Hard to Become a Zero Waste Company?

A friend of mine recently suggested it is like dieting in a bakery. It is possible however the proximity to the very food you are attempting to avoid makes failing too easy. That does not mean people could not actually improve their health in such an environment despite the challenges. No one will argue that it will not happen without enormous effort. And that “enormous effort” might be at the heart of why zero waste is the goal we may never achieve.

A zero waste company must understand how their customers live. At this particular moment in recycling, most attempts at reducing the amount of waste in our systems is being legislated. Five states have insisted every business in the food industry engage in some sort of recycling. It has been met with some success and even, according the states that have instituted these measures, created an economic upside, mostly in the increased number of haulers involved in the effort. This sort of mandate did have the effect of reducing  the amount of the previously trashed food from entering the landfill. (Read my thoughts on whether commercial wasted food disposal bans actually work.)

Some states fear legislated recycling to such a degree they have instituted bans on even having the conversation.

Legislated recycling is beginning to take hold in a variety of locales in what appears to be a patchwork approach to zero waste. Beyond mandatory composting, plastic bags are another likely target for companies in their zero waste efforts and rightly so. The results of those efforts are impressive. More impressive is the number of countries (almost half of Africa) calling for an outright ban.

And some businesses have seized upon what is clearly a red state vs. blue state issue by creating arbitrary goals to eliminate plastic bags or significantly reduce packaging involving that substance. The gamble for these companies is not on the coasts – numerous cities, counties and some states (CA and HI have bans, NY is considering it). It seems to be the interior states that have removed the conversation from ever happening. These self-bans may prove to be problematic.

Laws Work – But Will They Work Where You Live?

Yes and no. The act of legislating recycling programs have been in place in some form for decades. Numerous communities have created vibrant curbside recycling programs for yard waste, cardboard, glass, plastic bottles and some metals. And some of those programs have added penalties for contamination of those collected materials or added costs for trash hauling to incentivize the effort. Recycling works; wishful recycling creates increased costs. Wishful recycling is the inclusion of materials that the community currently cannot process. This list has grown over the last several years, a trend that is the opposite of zero waste.

In other words, your recycling, whether it be curbside or back-of-operation is only as good as your neighbor’s effort. In my old office I had scrawled a quote across the top of one of my large white boards: “Convenience is the destination; not the journey.” We are still in the early stages of that journey. This means your neighbor’s effort is only as good as the availability of the right type of zero waste technology. And unfortunately, for the average consumer, and for businesses, the choices that are currently available are fraught with issues as well.

And those issues do not help the internal conversation.

Can I Help?

I believe that Zero Waste Consultants can help. Here’s what we can do to get you closer those goals.

  • We will examine and evaluate your current programs. There is no shame in bad choices that seemed to be good choices when they were made. In fact, the industry is evolving quickly and we can help facilitate a program that will grow with you, and in many instances place you ahead of an legislative efforts concerning both wasted food and plastic (and a variety of other waste problems you might have).
  • We will work with your people, both in leadership and at ground level to discover how you can take advantage of untapped internal processes such a reverse distribution (if you have warehouses) and education to ensure success. Your zero heroes currently work for you but in many companies, these people do not know how they can help.
  • We will work with local governments to create sustainable support for your efforts. Most communities want to do the right thing and have hired bright minds to lead their municipalities in the right direction. No longer are the regulatory agencies at odds with your goals and in fact, may provide assistance without the regulations.

Your company’s goals, their ideas and our solutions will bring your zero waste goals closer to zero. Should we begin the conversation?

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