It is estimated that worldwide, a staggering 2.2 billion tonnes of waste is produced per year. Much of this waste is packaging from food and beverages, a great deal of which will end up in a landfill, since certain types of packaging are non-degradable or can take hundreds of years to break down. Some plastic bottle types, for instance, may take as long as 450 years to do so.
While many companies have now made it their mission to generate and dispose of less waste, there is still a long way to go. How, then, can businesses do better, and is there really such a thing as ‘zero waste’?
What is Zero Waste?
The Zero Waste philosophy attempts to encourage a lifestyle that ensures as many products and materials are reused, rather than ending up in landfills. The clue really is in the name – ‘zero waste’ means trying to prevent anything from ending up in landfill or incinerator. Yes, this way of thinking goes a lot further than just re-using single-use water bottles and taking your glass bottles to the local recycling point. Of course, recycling is part of the solution, but it should rather be the last resort. Instead, we should be depending upon it far less and adopting better methods whereby the products we choose and their packaging are lessened or reused.
Zero waste is, in essence, a whole lifestyle change – from the design and manufacturing processes to rethinking the purchase decisions we make, and evaluating whether what we are consuming will produce waste or not. The overall goal is to keep materials in circulation for as long as is possible, by ensuring numerous valuable lifecycles. Instead of discarding resources, the aim is to create a system whereby all of them are able to be reused again.
How can your business adopt a zero waste approach?
A zero waste approach is beneficial to your business, since it shows good Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which can, in turn, improve your brand’s image. With more than 88 percent of consumers believe that businesses should seek to achieve their goals while attempting to improve society and the environment, adopting a sustainable approach is certainly advantageous. Moreover, by making better use of your businesses’ resources, your profits can increase, since you will be wasting less money on continuously purchasing and disposing of things.
There is a wide variation on how zero waste is defined, with many businesses interpreting it differently – however, the common aspect is that they are all trying to improve their practices.
Although it might not be possible to ensure all employees take the methodology seriously, by introducing zero waste as a company strategy and actively working to change your business practices, staff will naturally strive to do better. Below are several tips on how to introduce zero waste ideologies within the workplace.
- No More Single-Use – Ditch the disposable cups, paper towels and plastic cutlery within the workplace and encourage employees to do the same. Having a water dispenser or coffee machine in the office, but without the disposable cups on-hand, mean staff will naturally have to use coffee mugs or reusable bottles provided instead. Better yet, not having a water cooler in the office at all, and instead using the tap, is an even more sustainable option.
- Purchase Second-Hand – When purchasing furniture for the office, why not acquire second-hand goods instead of new items? That way, you’re keeping things in rotation for as long as possible, which is at the heart of the zero waste approach. Check out sites like Freecycle, where people in your local area might be donating the items you need for free. You might bag yourself a comfy sofa for the office without splashing any cash. It’s a win-win for your business and the environment!
- Durable Products – If you do need to purchase new products, be sure to invest in those which are built to last and are able to be easily repaired or re-manufactured. This is important in preventing items from quickly ending up in landfills. Before purchasing, you should check with suppliers and manufacturers whether there is a guaranteed take-back or recycling scheme in place, thus ensuring future uses. If they don’t, seek out a supplier which does. Decisions like these might cost your business a greater amount of time and money initially, but it works out cheaper in the long-run.
- Give Back – A fantastic way to adopt this lifestyle is to give back to the local community. Whether it be a corporate beach clean-up or redistributing your surplus food to local charities or the homeless, there are plenty of innovative ways to showcase your positive CSR.
- Ditch the Small Bins – It might sound like a drastic measure, but one that has worked for smaller businesses in particular is removing small trash cans from the office. This prevents people from easily disposing of things while sitting at their desks and sending them right into the landfill. It also encourages employees to really think about the best way to dispose of their waste.
Adopting a new, zero waste approach is certainly not an easy feat and requires time, effort and patience. Nobody is faultless and even those who have been doing it for years produce some waste. As dedicated zero waste blogger Kathryn points out, it isn’t about perfection, it’s simply about making better choices.
As such, introducing small company-wide changes over time is essential in helping to reduce our negative impact on the planet. Doing so will not only help the world, but it’ll also give your business a positive PR boost and save you money in the long-run – what’s not to love?
Claire Anderson is the Communications Consultant at Petainer, a UK supplier of eco-friendly, sustainable PET kegs and containers for many industries and sectors across the globe. Zero Waste is at the heart of the Petainer approach.