The concept of “zero waste” is an ethical ideal – a guiding principle that works toward making all discarded materials into resources rather than burying or burning them. Is it possible to achieve zero waste? Theoretically, yes. But taking today’s typical approach to office and building waste management to an endpoint of generating no waste at all will take time, strategy, and effort.
Zero waste aims to return all used product and packaging back to being resources.
With concepts like zero waste, thinking in terms of a mindset is ultimately more productive than thinking in terms of imposing directives, though that will be necessary sometimes. Education is an important part of zero waste because to make it happen, people need to know waste because to make it happen, people need to know why they’re doing it, and how they will benefit. Here are some key principles of zero waste, plus thoughts on putting those principles into practice.
Cradle-to-Cradle vs. Cradle-to-Grave
It wasn’t that long ago when even a “cradle-to-grave” concept of product development was foreign. Until the 1970s, flagrant disregard for the environment (in everyday acts like littering) wasn’t roundly condemned. As concern for the environment grew, products were designed with a cradle-to-grave approach, an open-ended process that concludes with discarded packaging and obsolete products in landfills.
Cradle-to-cradle, by contrast, is a product lifecycle approach that enables the material to be reused or recycled, creating a closed-loop cycle in which there is no waste. It’s not an easy concept to implement, but the industry is making strides.
Benefits of Pursuing Zero Waste
The roots of the word “waste” go back to Anglo-French and Old North French words referring to empty, desolate, abandoned places. In other words, waste is something that has been depleted, or needlessly abandoned or expended. It’s clearly not cost-effective over the long term, nor is it healthy for the planet.
Benefits of a long-term zero waste vision include:
- Financial savings due to lower inefficiencies
- Faster progress and an environment more conducive to innovation due to more efficient production processes
- Greater environmental sustainability and its ensuing benefits to the economy and society
- Smarter, better material flows, with fewer raw materials needed, less waste going to landfills, higher recycling rates, and more widespread composting where feasible
Taking Control of Office and Building Waste Management
As a business owner or facilities manager, how can you put the principles of zero waste to work in your everyday office and building waste management processes? Here are some proven, practical steps:
- Conduct a waste audit to identify all materials that are thrown away that could be recycled at your facility. To know how to reduce waste, you need to know where and how waste occurs.
You can’t properly determine your best steps until you know where waste occurs.
- Designate a recycling coordinator for your facility who determines what can be recycled and how to divert recyclables from the waste stream. This person may also implement recycling education and placement of bins, and choose a recycling hauler.
- Work with your city and waste hauler (if applicable) to determine which materials to start collecting for recycling.
- Design a simple, easy-to-use collection system. Put recycling containers where they’re needed, like next to copiers (for recycling misprints) in break rooms, and near individual cubicles or offices.
- Reward success of people who participate in steps toward zero waste. For example, a department that increases its recycling rate for aluminum cans could be rewarded with gift cards or a catered luncheon.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Even enormous corporations like Walmart recognize the fundamental soundness of the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” concept. And the order in which these are listed is key. The absolute best way to reduce waste is not to use something in the first place. For example, the cheapest tank of gas is the one you don’t have to buy because you have coordinated errands and carpooled to get the most from every journey. The same is true for things like packaging materials and products themselves.
Reuse is a concept that has fallen out of favor as technology has zoomed ahead, providing us with brand new devices every few months. But one, much technology waste can be recycled and two, there’s an awful lot of non-tech things that can be reused, whether for their original use or repurposed for a different use (as you’ll see on countless “upcycling” websites). Recycling, while critically important, is really more of a last resort to avoid landfill use.
Zero waste is becoming more of a reality with every day and every person and organization that commits to it. Make it your mission. Even if you fall short of absolute zero waste, you’re sure to reduce your environmental footprint, and that benefits everyone. For more information about building waste management or to schedule a complimentary walk through of your facility to assess your needs, contact us today.