Recycling our waste has become an expected practice across multiple industries with those not participating in the practice severely damaging their company image and reputation. In addition to periodically evaluating our operations to increase efficiency and reduce waste, we must not also forget that in our effort to get to the ultimate goal of going zero waste, some of waste streams can, when structured properly, develop into new revenue streams. This varies by each industry or specific manufacturing capacity but the fact remains that for companies willing to conduct a waste audit, there can be new revenues discovered from the same material that is usually expressed as an expense on the balance sheet.
One interesting point to consider when taking this new approach to waste reduction and ultimately a zero waste operation is that all materials, whether they be the packaging or a percentage of the input products themselves, come into a company’s operation with value, but more often than not, leave without the full potential of the materials being realized. Processed residuals from those materials and left-overs are often treated as valueless waste and disposed of. With some creativity and innovation, this waste might be utilized elsewhere and repurposed. Bottom line, this waste being sent to a landfill represents inefficiencies and/or lost opportunities.
Going Zero Waste
The sustainability industry commonly uses the term “Zero Waste” as the ultimate goal for businesses trying to lessen their local environmental impact. The process of going zero waste is essentially focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource and product life cycles so that ALL materials and products are reused, hence zero waste. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. This goal requires a fresh perspective and reevaluation of one’s entire operation and waste stream. Significant improvements towards going zero waste can be achieved through most any department of your business starting with purchasing and ending with the decision on how to reuse and recycle. Aside from clear local and environmental benefits that going zero waste will bring, selecting the proper products and materials to bring into your organization based on the criteria of their quality, intended usage and intended lifespan, will bring significant monetary benefit. Zero waste, by definition should be a focus of any successful business, not simply for its environmental improvements but additionally for its contribution towards reducing waste, in all forms, that can be a costly oversight to any business. The zero waste concept should apply in all operational efficiency contexts for the value it can bring to a business. One of the most significant first steps a company can take towards creating a culture of zero waste is by conducting a waste audit (discussed below).
Waste Reduction and Waste Audits
The first step towards going zero waste starts with understanding the waste you and your operation produce today. Operations can start their “waste reduction journey” by analyzing what waste is being created, how much and where it is coming from. This step can be called a solid waste assessment or simply a waste audit and is paramount to understanding your operation and the areas for opportunity. Take a look at this article that breaks down the importance and benefits of conducting a waste audit. Every company will have different waste streams to consider when conducting their waste audit but determining what materials can be reduced before they enter into your operation can reap steady benefits both environmentally as well as economically. Our GBB EcoPlanner has specific initiatives for implementing this Waste Audit as well as many other waste reduction initiatives relevant to operational efficiency. The screenshot from the GBB EcoPlanner below shows an example of a Waste Audit initiative snapshot.
NOTE: Members of GBB have access to additional EcoPlans and valuable supplementary articles. At this time, the specific steps and recommendations for conducting a proper waste audit is only available to GBB Members in part two of this article.
When considering zero waste, our first intention should always be to reuse materials and products prior to considering the best methods of recycling. In manufacturing and general business this can mean a multitude of methods and opportunities. Programs can range from a simple cardboard reuse program to something more unique to your operation like reusing or selling materials and byproducts you have in excess. If unable to reuse these byproducts within your own operation, one of the most effective ways to repurpose your waste/byproducts is to find another manufacturer or producer that can. This concept, called byproduct synergy, can be extremely beneficial in a multitude of ways for both parties. These partnerships can be beneficial in that you may decide to sell your waste to a company that in turn is able to purchase it at a significant discount from you since they are taking it out of your waste stream. This creates less waste for you, potentially a new revenue stream and can develop a mutually beneficial business relationship down the road. Keep in mind that this concept of closed loop business or byproduct synergy can inversely benefit your operation by reducing your purchasing costs.
New Revenue Streams from Waste
A common example of byproduct synergy and the revenue obtained could be a brewery that simply donates their spent grains to a local baker, the baker in turn gives back a portion of the created product to the brewery to sell for brewery profit, while the bakery gets a great marketing/advertising boost by showcasing the unique offerings for only a portion of the grain that was gifted in the first place. Another more industrious example could be how the steel and cement industry joined together to convert useless steel slag (byproduct of steel production) into a valuable raw material for the creation of cement. This has benefitted both industries by increasing profits, cutting energy usage, reducing GHG emissions and reducing waste. Check out this linked article to learn more about this and other examples of Byproduct Synergy and how it can help drive your company closer to zero waste
Let’s discuss the expenses associated with waste removal services and yet another reason to pursue a zero waste operation. If you are not specifically tracking the monthly expenses incurred from charges such as rental dumpsters, hauling services, landfill costs and additional fees resulting from a variety of reasons, the chances are that somebody on your organization is and it is important to get this data and understand it to realize the benefits of waste reduction. If this data is not available to you, take a look at this article from Expert Market to understand the pricing and estimate your total waste removal costs. Needless to say, these are unnecessary costs that provide no benefit to your business, but rather place a strain on local waste collection. All over the US there are companies and organizations with a business model built on repurposing your operational waste for an improved or break even price. These businesses take what waste you are producing and find ways to repurpose it into something else, whether it be Fuel Cubes (described in detail in the Member’s part two of this article) or plastic beads that can be converted into a variety of recycled plastic products. This lessens your environmental impact significantly, allows you to market a unique waste reduction partnership, potentially reduces your expenses on pickups and typically creates a simpler, more streamline recycling program.
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