Achieve zero waste with our waste management checklist

The ultimate goal of this waste management checklist is to achieve zero waste.

By zero waste, we mean the conservation of all resources utilizing responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials. A zero waste program should avoid burning and eliminate discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

Comparatively, poor waste management contributes to air pollution, exacerbates climate change, contaminates ecological habitats, and is harmful to wildlife and human health. For instance, thinking about climate change, solid waste-related emissions are anticipated to increase to 2.38 billion tonnes of CO2e per year by 2050 – if no improvements in this sector are made. We calculated that this represents 5% of the estimated total global emissions for 2050 (based on business-as-usual models).

The question is, how can your business promote sustainable waste management, and achieve zero waste?

The Green Business Bureau (GBB) has created this waste management checklist to help business leaders like you make a positive contribution, and solve our global waste problem. By following the tips given in this checklist, you can institute an effective and sustainable waste management program.

How to self-evaluate your waste management system

Below we’ve listed the main questions you need to ask to evaluate your current waste management system and identify areas for improvement:

  1. What waste do you produce and where does it come from?
  2. How can you reduce waste and prevent pollution? Waste and waste by-products can easily make their way into the air, soil, and water sources. You need to identify instances where this is happening.
  3. Can you find ways to recycle or upcycle waste materials? Where do you install recycling bins and for what materials and waste?

After answering these questions, be sure to complete a waste audit. During a waste audit, a third party will be sent to assess and identify instances of environmental harm caused by your waste stream.

It’s also possible to conduct an internal waste audit – without a third party – by simply following this GBB checklist. Following this checklist will help you identify areas that can be improved for greater business sustainability. After self-reflecting on your waste production processes, you will have a good sense of which fields need improving, allowing you to prioritize your sustainability initiatives.

Types of Waste In Your Business

Below we’ve listed the 7 different types of waste a business can generate, as detailed by the Environmental Protection Agency:

  1. Municipal solid waste,
  2. Hazardous waste,
  3. Industrial non-hazardous waste,
  4. Agricultural waste,
  5. Medical waste,
  6. Oil and gas production waste,
  7. Fossil fuel combustion waste.

A good business waste management system will address these 7 different types of waste across the entire organization. To do this, this checklist considers these waste types across the following organizational areas:

  • Office waste: Here our checklist looks to reduce the amount of waste that directly stems from the office itself. In other words, how can the use of everyday materials in the office be substituted with more sustainable, recycled, and reused materials? The most common waste type here is municipal solid waste.
  • Cafe and food waste: Here our checklist looks at food and other waste items that are generated from onsite food and beverage outlets. Thinking about food waste specifically, this is considered to be one of the largest contributors to the world’s total GHG emissions (producing roughly 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions). The most common waste type here is food waste.
  • Hazardous waste: Here our checklist looks to reduce waste that is capable of causing harm to human health and the environment. Such waste materials need to be disposed of by following the correct procedure. The most common waste type here is hazardous waste.
  • Manufacturing product material waste: Here our checklist looks to reduce waste generated during the manufacturing and the production of goods. Such waste items include dunnage, shoring, pallets, lining, transit and packing materials, plywood, paper, cardboard, wire, plastic wrapping, and steel strapping. This section also includes industry-specific waste items such as medical waste, agricultural waste, and oil and gas production waste. Yet the most common waste types here are industrial non-hazardous waste and fossil fuel combustion waste.

The waste management checklist

Here are 26 tips to help your business develop an effective sustainable waste management system. Use this checklist to identify areas for improvement in your waste management practices.

Office waste

  • Tip #1 – Eliminate the use of disposable goods: Avoid single-use items and use only permanent/reusable ones.
  • Tip #2 – Reduce the use of plastic: Eliminate plastic bottles and bags; use reusable bags, and introduce water dispensers throughout the office.
  • Tip #3 – Recycle glass, plastic, and aluminum: Have a recycling station, and run a recycling program to train staff on how to recycle effectively.
  • Tip #4 – Minimize the volume of paper used onsite: Make two-sided printing or copying the default practice, and go digital where possible to avoid paper use in the first place.
  • Tip #5 – Recycle and reuse paper: Workspaces should have paper recycle bins to make it easy to collect all types of paper including packaging and cardboard.
  • Tip #6 – Go completely paperless: Instead of using paper documents, communicate through email, instant messenger chat, via video meetings, and save everything safely in the cloud.

Cafeteria and food waste

  • Tip #7 – Use refillable containers for drinking and condiments: Eliminate plastic water bottles. Be sure to provide a filtered water station to fill up employees’ water bottles.
  • Tip #8 – Switch to reusable silverware, cups, and plates: Limit the use of plastic utensils by providing dishes, mugs, glasses, and plates and be sure to make it easy to collect dirty dishes and clean them.
  • Tip #9 – Ensure there are adequately labeled trash bins and recycling facilities: Label your trash and recycling bins so these facilities stand out to encourage the correct and sustainable disposal of waste material.
  • Tip #10 – Implement a compost bin: The GHG emissions from composted food waste are estimated to be just 14% of the total GHG emissions released when the same food item is sent to a landfill site. This is because composting facilities optimize the organic breakdown of food to reduce the amount of methane emitted.

Hazardous waste

  • Tip #11 – Recycle batteries, light bulbs, and electronics: Make it easy for individuals to dispose of batteries, electronics, or fluorescent light bulbs by providing correctly labeled bins on site, and work with organizations specialized to recycle these items. For more information on how you can recycle your hazardous waste items, read: Hazardous Waste Recycling: Sustainability Initiative Highlights.
  • Tip #12 – Follow the correct procedure to dispose of hazardous waste: Hazardous waste must only be disposed of at specialist sites. Work with specialist waste disposal companies to transport your hazardous materials to the appropriate facilities for correct processing.

Manufacturing product materials waste

  • Tip #13 – recycle wood pallets: Search for local facilities and suppliers that recycle or reuse used pallets. For instance, in Massachusetts, many vendors take pallets back after the delivery. Some companies will accept, repair, and resell gently used pallets.
  • Tip #14 – Switch to biodegradable, and other alternative forms of eco-friendly packaging: Do your research and make the switch to use packaging materials that cause less harm to the environment. Have a read of our 10 Eco-Friendly Packaging Alternatives for Your Business’s Shipping Needs if you need inspiration.
  • Tip #15 – Repurpose or reuse scraps from your manufacturing process: Upcycling is a process that takes old materials, and makes something new and useful out of those materials. For example, TerraCycle is a company that has created waste collection programs for waste that is impossible or difficult to recycle. This waste is converted into new products such as park benches or backpacks.
  • Tip #16 – Implement an efficient inventory management system: Control the quantity of material being used in the manufacturing process to reduce the amount of excess raw materials in stock and the amount of any hazardous bi-product being produced. Use inventory management methods such as the Just-In-Time framework.
  • Tip #17 – Donate, sell, or exchange unwanted but usable items: As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Thinking about this statement, look to support a circular economy by passing on your unwanted but functional items and materials. For instance, waste plywood can be donated to be recycled as biomass, panel boards, and wood chippings.
  • Tip #18 – Encourage employees to reduce waste from the manufacturing process – This tip comes down to employee education and creating a company culture that promotes zero waste. Educate your team on the importance of waste reduction, and implement informative posters and leaflets throughout the workplace. Discourage employees from throwing away items by using the appropriate signage by your bins.
  • Tip #19 – Reduce the amount of paper used for workplace communication: Just like in the office, use email, online instant messenger chat apps, online video call software, and digital document storage as a form of communication to slash paper use during manufacturing operations.
  • Tip #20 – Stock or sell products made with recycled content: Using and stocking products made from recycled content will reduce resource demand while also supporting a circular economy. In implementing this tip, your organization will support suppliers who are recycling materials to make new products.
  • Tip #21 – Reduce the number of garbage bin liners: Reusing bags and having unlined bins will reduce plastic use by eliminating the need for plastic garbage bags.
  • Tip #22 – Ensure machines are being used efficiently: Train employees on how to use manufacturing machinery properly. Deviating from recommended usage could cause the machinery to work harder than intended, putting unnecessary wear on equipment and wasting energy. Regularly maintain and update equipment and machinery to ensure everything is running as efficiently as possible.
  • Tip #23 – Switch to a renewable energy provider: Reduce fossil fuel combustion waste by switching to renewable energy sources where possible. Examples include transitioning to biofuel and electric run vehicles and machinery. Plus, you can choose a renewable energy provider, purchase a green tariff or offsite power purchase agreement, or install your renewable energy source on site to reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Tip #24 – Offset your carbon emissions: For GHG emission waste that cannot be avoided, choose certified and vetted carbon offset schemes. Read: How To Buy Carbon Offsets: 6 Certified and Vetted Options for more information on the best offset schemes available to you.
  • Tip #25 – Recover, reuse, and sort: For some manufacturing options, recoverable waste items are difficult to extract (especially the case when handling liquids). Your aim is to recover the maximum possible waste from onsite and offsite locations. Do some research about the different appropriate techniques available to you and your industry. Examples include electrolysis, filtration, reverse osmosis, and centrifugation.
  • Tip #26 – Mitigate waste from defected items: You want to keep waste defects to an absolute minimum. To do this, you need to implement an early defect detection process. Frameworks such as DFMEA, PFMEA, Root Cause Analysis, and Poka Yoke can help you here.

Acheive zero waste with an effective waste management system

Zero waste is the ultimate goal for a sustainable waste management system.

As such, a sustainable waste management system needs to be designed to identify waste stream areas that need improving on a sustainability front. In this regard, our sustainable waste management checklist serves as a primer to support your sustainable waste processing goals.

Yet, the benefits of effective waste management go beyond being green. Focusing your efforts to improve business waste management will elevate your brand, attracting the ethical consumer and top talent. This is called the Return On Investment of sustainability, which you can read more about in our article: The Return on Investment (ROI) of Sustainable Business.

The steps in this checklist are a sample of the type of green initiatives you need to be implementing. This means that implementing an effective and sustainable waste management system is not merely limited to these tips.

For a more thorough green guide, one that extends to all business operations beyond waste management, you can use the Green Business Bureau’s (GBB) EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner which contain over 400 green initiatives, ordered by effort and impact. Once more, with GBB you can accurately celebrate your achievements by gaining green business certification, with your very own Green Seal of approval. Click here for more information, and how you can get started with the Green Business Bureau.

Sustainable waste management is a much-needed solution for any purpose-driven business. It’s an important instrument to tackle the current tiple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. By achieving zero waste, your business can keep resources circling within our economy, avoiding the environmental impacts used to make and dispose of products.

CJ is currently pursuing an undergraduate business degree, with a minor in entrepreneurship at the University of Connecticut. He enjoys learning, problem solving, business, teaching others and sustainability. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, being outside in nature, having fun, and making people laugh.

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