Please welcome Kieryn Matthews, a devoted staff member of Sustainability Leadership, who is our guest blogger for this month’s post on Working Towards a Zero-Waste Business.
What is Zero-Waste?
The concept of zero waste is a popular topic but what does it mean, how would one achieve zero waste, and why is it important? Zero waste is defined as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health” by the Zero Waste International Alliance. Essentially, all the products we use should be either recycled or composted with no negative impact to the environment at any stage of the product life cycle. This can seem like an impossible task but there are many simple changes we can make and it is critical that we do.
There are many important reasons why we should all be moving towards zero waste. First, it benefits the environment by using less resources and minimizing pollution. By reusing and recycling products significantly less raw materials and electricity will be used, resulting in less pollution from extraction, processing, and landfills. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency estimates 23% of global fossil fuel emissions come from industry and 29% from transportation. Second, shifting to zero waste increases job opportunities. There will be a need for more people to support sourcing sustainable materials, recycling, composting, and repairing products. These industries will create up to 10 times more jobs than the waste management industry. Lastly, moving towards a zero waste system helps create and support communities. As we work towards reusing, repairing, and sharing products we build a community of people interested in the same cause who support each other. It also benefits less wealthy communities as we work to redistribute old furniture or excess food. Additionally, there are many benefits of zero waste for your business.
Benefits For Your Business To Move Towards Zero-Waste.
- Improves brand image: Almost 70% of consumers prefer eco-friendly brands. There is an increasing demand for transparency from business as consumers want to make more informed choices about where their products come from, how they are made, and how to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. Showing that your business is working towards that, even in a small way, will be beneficial to your company’s brand.
- Builds a networks with other sustainable businesses and organizations: Expanding networks is important for any business. It can provide support, better employees, increased customers, and more. Organizations like Zero Waste Canada and Zero Waste International Alliance help support and connect organizations trying to improve their zero waste strategies.
- Creates a healthier workplace: Implementing more zero waste practices is not only important for the environment but also mental wellbeing. Using more eco-friendly products and reducing waste will improve the work environment and employees will appreciate it.
- Saves money in waste management: Reducing company waste means your company doesn’t have to spend money on managing that waste afterwards. Overall it will increase production efficiency and reduce production costs.
- Could be a new source of revenue: When trying to manage the waste in your production process there are opportunities to potentially make money. Some of your waste may be able to be resold or made into something new that can be sold.
- Educate yourself and your coworkers: There are lots of resources available to learn more about the problem and some simple first steps for at home and in the workplace. Understanding why and the benefits of shifting to zero waste can help motivate people into taking action. Check out Going Zero Waste and Small Business for inspiration on getting started.
- Conduct a waste audit: A good first step is doing a waste audit. This involves analyzing your waste, recycling, and compost to determine what you are throwing away. This will help you decide what changes you need to make. Maybe there needs to be more education around what is recyclable or maybe a simple switch to mugs in the office will prevent the use of disposable cups. Learn more about the importance of doing a waste audit here.
- Encourage reusables and composting: The biggest shift that needs to happen is using more reusable and compostable products. This will reduce waste going to the landfill. There are more and more options available for single use alternatives, you just have to put the time in to find and implement them.
The thought of going zero waste at home or as a business can feel overwhelming. However, it doesn’t have to be. Simple steps make a difference and there are countless benefits both to the environment, you, and your business. You may never reach fully zero waste but that is no reason not to start.