Redesigning. Rethinking. Reducing. Reusing. Going beyond recycling—that’s what zero waste is all about. Although recycling is the first step in the journey, achieving zero waste goes far beyond, and by focusing on the larger picture, businesses can reap impressive benefits.
This becomes apparent when examining the work that companies like Toyota have done over the past several years. A decade ago, Toyota was saving millions of dollars by recycling their cardboard boxes in North America. However, the company looked upstream and realized that by redesigning its packaging and creating reusable shipping containers, it could go even further. Not only could Toyota have a positive impact on the environment and become more efficient, but it could also go from saving millions of dollars to saving nearly half a billion dollars, just from this one action.
Since 2002, Toyota’s parts and accessories returnable container program has saved over 308 million pounds of wood and 185 million pounds of cardboard. That’s the equivalent of 2.5 billion trees and $445 million in packaging cost savings—and all these savings equal more resources for the future and lower costs for Toyota’s parts and accessories. Currently, about 109 million parts and more than 65,000 reusable shipping containers travel through Toyota’s parts and accessories network.
The goal of zero waste is not only to eliminate your trash bin, but also your recycling and compost bins. That might seem like a high goal, but when you shift your mindset to reduce, reuse and become more efficient, and you view everything in your trash, recycling and compost bins as a valuable commodity, this goal can be achieved.
Here are some strategies to help you get started:
- Conduct a zero waste audit and analysis: Conduct an audit/analysis on not only your facility’s trash bin, but your recyclables and compostables. Many waste haulers and service providers will assist you with this, but it is also important to engage your employees. You can start by looking at your trash compactor or dumpsters, but having your employees analyze their own bins in their work areas takes you even further.
- Know your trash: Many companies dive deep into their trash to understand the process. Often, they start by having their employees identify and profile all their waste. One easy way to do this, instead of going to your trash bin, is to look at your purchasing agreements and your receiving log. Then, you can identify every material coming in and highlight what could be reduced, reused or recycled.
- Reduce the size and amount of product packaging: At Hewlett-Packard, for example, the company has been very innovative in finding ways to make its packaging reusable. It turns packaging into reusable handbags for people to carry their laptops. In addition, it also recycles inkjet cartridges and even uses these recycled cartridges to make new ones (new inkjet cartridges are made from 50 percent old inkjet cartridges and 50 percent recycled plastic bottles).
- Reduce risk/increase efficiency: Waste is all about efficiency and reducing risk. Employing zero waste practices and policies can have a big impact on a number of different issues, from workman’s comp insurance to banking rates. For instance, by switching to packaging that can be easily disassembled, you can reduce the need for knives to cut packaging apart, and by moving to less toxic materials, you can keep employees and clients healthy. Zero waste practices such as source-separated recyclables can significantly increase your bottom line. A strong and verified zero waste program can provide a great corporate social responsibility platform, reducing negative publicity risks.
- Implement a tracking program for material flows: By tracking the flow of your materials and working with your vendors, you can increase your waste diversion while also saving both yourself and your vendor money. Ricoh Electronics, for example, used to receive its chemicals in small cans, which took a lot of time to open and had to be placed in the hazardous waste bin after use. Ricoh went back to its vendor and worked with the vendor to design reusable drums for chemical delivery. This made it more efficient for the employees to open and use the chemicals and also eliminated the hazardous waste pickup Ricoh was paying for with the small cans. The vendor saved money, and so did Ricoh.
- Leadership and employee engagement: This is one of the most critical strategies in achieving zero waste, because zero waste is about cultural change within the company. Part of understanding your employee engagement is knowing where they are. Conduct a survey on what motivates your employees, what their environmental understanding is, and then incorporate that into your employee program. Leadership involves engaging and rewarding employees for participating and offering solutions. Ultimately, it also means understanding local and global communities, and helping to create a zero waste economy for all.