When we think about saving money in business often the first thoughts that come to mind are cutting money through staff reductions. In many small businesses – which often have just a few employees to start with – this type of budget cutting is simply not an option. Unfortunately, the opportunities that too many small businesses miss are the ways that they can save money by eliminating waste rather than reducing staff or output.
Think about it: Waste costs every business money in a variety of ways. The word “waste” even gives us a hint… waste refers to the excess, unnecessary materials left over from some type of production or task, or the undesirable refuse and bi-products of that task. Often, this waste costs money in the first place as the small business purchases items that will simply become trash later, and the waste costs later as the business needs to pay someone to dispose of this waste. Of course, it also costs the environment as this waste eats up resources to create it initially and then requires resources and landfill space to dispose of it on the back end of its life cycle. One way that every small business can improve its bottom line, and reduce its environmental impact, is to manage waste better. There are essentially three ways to manage waste; let’s look at them.
1. Do not create the waste in the first place. As the age-old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Hence, it is much easier to prevent waste and garbage in the first place than it is to take care of it. Preventing waste requires a small business to be proactive, developing a plan to starts with design, goes through material ordering and development, and results in less waste which is tracked to show progress. This is the most important and potentially valuable way to reduce waste.
Let’s consider some examples of how a small business might reduce waste from the very start. For a company that provides training, conducting some of the training online can save money and prevent waste by eliminating the need to use gasoline to drive to destinations or the electricity to run a training facility or to print materials. Similarly, allowing employees to telecommute, even just one day a week, can save money in a similar fashion. Many businesses have employees who do most of their work on the computer; offering a single telecommute day can save serious money on electricity, water and more, can save employees’ transportation costs, and can improve moral, all while helping the environment. Offering product manuals on CD, flash drives or via web download can seriously reduce printing cost and paper / ink waste. In the office, developing print policies can help as well, discouraging employees from printing off things that can be done, read and forwarded online. A nursery might purchase biodegradable pots that they can use for mulch the following season. The list of ways to plan to create less waste is almost endless.
2. Recycle or reuse the waste material. Another way to deal with waste is to turn it into something useful. This can be done by recycling everything from water bottles to printer cartridges. It can include small things, such as recycling used paper, or slightly bigger things like composting lunch waste and yard waste. It can also mean getting creative. For example, a small restaurant can work with a local bio fuel distiller to supply them with used vegetable oil; this can reduce the costs of waste disposal for the restaurant and provide clean fuel for others. Or, an automotive repair shop can work with a mulching company to turn their old tires into playground mulch. Again, there are almost endless ways that one can use creativity to reduce waste and recycle materials into a new life.
3. Dispose of the waste properly. Of course, some materials simply must be disposed of as it is quite challenging for any small business to go zero waste. When you do have to throw things away do so responsibly. Be sure to recycle anything that is recyclable. Then, find out the proper way to dispose of hazardous material such as used oils, paints, syringes, computer equipment and so forth.