Zero Waste: The Landfill at the End of the Line

I would be willing to wager that the vast majority of the people who go to work tasked with a zero waste mandate ever ask themselves about the landfill at the end of the line. And why would they? Even sustainability managers, the very individual or group inside your building rarely thinks about this piece of real estate as anything other than something to avoid. And yet the health of the landfill is the ultimate goal of any recycling or material recovery effort. We mention diversion and recycling and composting as active terms and suggest the reduction of these materials to the landfill is a good thing. And it is. So why, after all these years, aren’t we better at it?

Your Municipal Landfill

There is a high degree of likelihood that your landfill is not local. The concept of the town dump no longer exists. In fact, if I were to track the waste my household in Portland, Oregon produces, I would be on an east bound highway for more than two and half hours. Currently, the local landfill receives only 10% of the waste generated in the Metro collection area. This arrangement is not uncommon across the nation as a whole.

Current state-by-state landfills and proposed projects.

In an article written for the EastOregonian, there is a great deal of concern at the local level should Portland (a metro area encompassing three large counties) decide to not renew the soon-to-be-expired agreement, what impact it would have on the local economy. Trash for many small communities counts as real dollars, often with multi-million dollar fee arrangements as well as the local job opportunities provided as the result of 50 plus trucks taking the 140 mile journey.

The Changing Landscape that Isn’t Changing Fast Enough

The consolidation of landfills has been taking place for a number of years and according to EPA, there are currently 623 projects (active landfills) in the U.S. with over 2500 candidate landfills proposed. While I hesitate to draw conclusions based on just those facts (fewer local landfills, larger more distant from the source projects, increased tonnage and the potential of more landfills to accommodate the waste stream), it suggests that we may have adopted the goal and rejected the premise.

So the conversation should be about goals. Not the business of moving waste or creating new waste removal technologies (the subject of future posts). Not the financial aspects even if they play numerous roles. Instead, the goal focused conversation should be about the people, your people, the people who have been tasked with the goal of creating a zero waste company.

Forbes identified the issue and suggested five easy ways to get to a goal such as zero waste, even if it is somewhat elusive. Goals that motivate you might have some impact on your company if the local attitude to recovery recycleable materials is part of the regional culture. However, this doesn’t answer the question on how it could be done in your area. It does create increased possibilities though.

The next step from a goal-setting perspective points toward the natural inclination of the body to follow the mind. Yet, the goals set forth by leadership are not always so clear. Derek Pangelinan of Derek Rey Consulting LLC, an employee empowerment and engagement trainer in a recent article suggested when asked about employee ennui: “It’s also likely that you haven’t been clear with what the goals are. When this happens, your people begin guessing what must be done and they ask you to make decisions because they literally have no idea which direction they are supposed to go.”

Monitoring progress is more than just looking at current data compared to previous information. In a zero waste pursuit, the data might have numerous platforms and as a result, widely varying impacts.

The article is actually focused on individual achievements and if the company is an abstract of the people who make up the entity, then self-mastery is an alignment of your company values and the people who work to achieve those goals.

Perhaps the most important goal requires an alignment that is often rare inside of companies of all sizes: The ability to take or avoid actions that “offer clues about your values, beliefs, challenges, strengths and weaknesses.” In a zero waste world, the options to do the “right thing” are not always clear and because of that, keeping leadership engaged and up-to-speed will not be easy.

The Costs in Abstract Terms

This is your landfill. This is your company throwing money away.

Landfills will continue to create controllable costs for your company, costs that a viable zero waste goal should alleviate. However those costs are not easy to explain.

Because there are so many factors involved in achieving your company’s zero waste goals, asking for fresh eye to take a look the situation may prove to be more cost effective than you might imagine. In a business environment, the summary of a goal is often a single page, written in simple terms. The ability to encompass the craziness of what the world of recycling has become is often a multi-stage process with numerous partners who may not necessarily see the kinship of objectives or the costs. This is where Zero Waste Consultants LLC comes in.

Pulling from numerous sources, we look at your issue directly. If you are a food related business, we can offer guidance on the right organics recovery program for your business – no matter where in the United States you operate. If your concern is plastic film/bags/wrap, and it should be no matter what business you are in, we can build viable solutions. If it involves other materials, we can work with your individual business and your valuable associates to develop a customized plan to move you closer to that zero waste goal than you might think possible. And we will do it in a language your whole team will understand.

Leadership sets the goal. We help you meet it. We should talk about the possibilities.

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