Smart Zero Waste Strategies That Worked This Year

zero waste
(Photo: Wegmans employees in Buffalo, New York, package bread for pickup. Credit: Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.)

Numerous companies have made commitments to send zero waste to the landfill by certain dates in the future. Achieving those ambitious goals requires adopting smart strategies.

In some cases, hitting corporate zero waste targets means changing perspectives on waste from the boardroom to the manufacturing floor.

As 2018 comes to a close, Environmental Leader looks back at the zero waste strategies that business leaders said worked for them this year.

Strategic Partnerships

Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minnesota introduced a collaborative effort called Rush2Recycle that aimed for zero waste on gameday.

Once the numbers were in, program partners said they had recovered 91% of all the trash generated at the stadium. NFL, PepsiCo, Aramark, US Bank Stadium, and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority couldn’t have done it without forming partnerships. The steps they took included a collaboration between the stadium and Aramark to offer fans compostable food service items.

Partnerships came into play for Wegmans Food Markets this year. The regional grocery store chain is eliminating food waste at stores by collaborating with local food pantries and food banks on pickups. Wegmans also offers food scraps up to local farmers and organizations as animal feed.

Absolut Vodka also tackles waste by working with farmers. In Sweden, the company feeds a byproduct of their raw spirit distillation process to 290,000 local pigs and cows.

Zero Waste Certification

One key advantage to adopting a zero waste approach is cutting waste hauling costs. The US Green Building Council’s Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) Zero Waste certification system can help companies with that, says sustainability consultant and TRUE advisor Josh Prigge. He described how Las Vegas-based fresh coconut company Coco Taps went through the certification process and now diverts 95% of the waste produced at its Las Vegas facility from landfill and incineration. The company’s goal is to reach 100% diversion by 2020.

In July, Target announced that they had already achieved their 2020 goal to divert 70% of retail waste from landfills through reuse or recycling. Among the steps taken was getting their Waste Minimization team zero-waste certified as TRUE advisors, which means they understand the requirements of the rating system, help projects achieve TRUE certification, and commit to advancing zero waste policies.

Refurbishments and Repairs

Walmart aims to achieve zero waste in their Canada, Japan, UK, and US operations by 2025. The retailer defines “zero waste” as meeting or exceeding Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) business recognition program requirements.

For non-food waste, Walmart’s strategy includes refurbishing products. “We look to the Ellen McArthur Foundation approach of maintaining materials at their best and longest use,” the company’s latest sustainability report says. In one example, Walmart worked with Unarco on refurbishing shopping carts, eliminating the need for 22,000 tons of metal over the past three years to make new ones.

Rethinking “Waste”

Trash or treasure? For an increasing number of business organizations, materials that used to end up in the dump are getting new life as something useful. In many cases, those scraps still have value.

Procter & Gamble announced this fall that they had reached zero manufacturing waste to landfill at 85% of their sites globally. The company’s Global Asset Recovery Purchases team developed solutions for plants that included recovering plastic waste from diaper production in Mexico and converting it into plastic pellets for new products such as buckets and brooms.

Pepsi aims to achieve zero waste to landfill from direct operations by 2025 as part of their Performance with Purpose (PwP) sustainability strategy. Speaking with Environmental Leader, PepsiCo’s senior director of global environmental policy Andrew Aulisi said that the company is always looking for new ways to use byproducts from operations.

“For example, we process a huge volume of oranges to produce Tropicana, and in the process end up with a significant number of orange peels,” Aulisi said. “Instead of letting these peels go to waste, we are able to sell them as animal feed.”

Ann Meitz, sustainability director of 3M’s Consumer Business Group, spoke with Environmental Leader this year about how their Cynthiana plant employees created a team focused on reducing waste and increasing recycling.

“The team initiated a recycling center within the plant to turn production waste into feedstocks — raw materials that they could use in their plant or in other plants,” Meitz said. “It has enabled the plant to create a true circular economy example of taking waste and putting it into new materials.”

We are currently accepting submissions for the 2019 Environmental Leader Awards. Learn more and submit a project or product here.

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