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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Third Party Certification Edges Industry Towards a Zero Waste Economy

Third party certifications play a valuable role for evaluating products and services. Independent review | testing ensures the product manufacturer proclamations are valid and follow industry standards. In addition third party certification is instrumental in setting standards and protocol within evolving industries.

In 2011 Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) - the busiest airport in the world - set new industry protocol with the groundbreaking compostable packaging provision in the new concessionaire contract. The ATL sustainability office relied upon the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) - Atlanta Airport Team to write the contract provision implementation policy.

The published document, Atlanta Airport Compostable Packaging Information Packet, details the ATL food & beverage packaging policy. During the drafting process, the SFCI Team was adamant third party compostability certification was incorporated into the policy. In the United States, the Biodegradables Products Institute (BPI) is the recognized third party compostable packaging certification standard. Concessionaires are required to use BPI-certified compostable food & beverage packaging for single-use service.

The ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Airport's Leadership Role in Compostable Food & Beverage Packaging, gives the history of ATL's contract provision along with compostable packaging implementation plans. At the recent SFCI Vendor Fair, the concessionaires were educated on the plethora of BPI-certified food & beverage packaging products available.

Once implemented, the ATL contract provision is staged to shift food & beverage packaging protocol at airports, large event facilities, conference centers and throughout the restaurant market. Note most large restaurant chains and QSR (quick service restaurants) operate an ATL outlet. Thus, a significant percentage of national restaurants will have consumer-facing compostable packaging printed with logos and tag lines.

Another third-party nonprofit certification organization, Green Seal, also certifies foodservice packaging to distinguish more sustainable options on the marketplace. Green Seal’s GS-35 Standard for Foodservice Packaging describes requirements such as prohibitions on toxins, performance testing for grease and moisture resistance, and also compostability .

Beyond foodservice packaging, Green Seal certifies restaurants and hotels – helping foodies and travelers identify businesses that have taken serious strides to reduce their waste, make responsible food purchasing choices, and conserve water and energy. As a legitimate third-party certifier, Green Seal conducts audits of its certified restaurants, hotels, and product manufacturing sites to ensure that these companies are fully complying with the criteria in the various Green Seal standards.   

In response to industry requests for zero waste standardization and third party validation, the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) launched the Zero Waste Certification Program (ZWCP) in March 2013. As the first zero waste certification program in the nation, the ZWCP establishes protocol and defines parameters for zero waste claims. For example, incineration is often included in the term "landfill diversion" yet is specifically NOT a zero waste material destination within the ZWCP.

Whole Foods Market w/
Zero Waste Certification
photo courtesy of USZWBC
At the ZWCP launch the first Zero Waste Certifications were awarded to three Whole Foods Market stores in San Diego County. In the related press release, USZWBC executive director Stephanie Barger states:
"We are thrilled to launch the new certification program and to verify the achievements of Whole Foods Market. Our goal is not only to provide credibility to Zero Waste businesses, but also to offer the resources needed to create value and save money through Zero Waste practices.The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council offers businesses access to recycling markets, peer-to-peer networking, Zero Waste training and conferences."
ZWCP Objectives:
  • Supports Zero Waste International Alliance definition of no waste to landfill, incineration and the environment.
  • Drives the development of new markets and new ideas towards a zero waste economy.
  • Meets zero waste businesses request for valid and comprehensive third party certification.
  • Focuses on upstream policies and practices beyond diversion or recycling.
  • Emphasizes strong total participation, training of all employees, zero waste relationships with vendors and customers.

ZWCP Requirements:
  1. Zero waste policy in place.
  2. 90% overall diversion from landfill and incineration for non-hazardous wastes. 
    • - Discarded materials are reduced, reused, recycled, composted or recovered for    productive use in nature or the economy at biological temperatures and  pressures.
      - Materials can be processed above ambient biological temperatures (>200° F) to    recover energy from the 10% residual, but they do not count as part of the 90%  diversion.
      - Reused materials (office furniture, pallets, paper, etc) are eligible to count as part of the  90% diversion requirement.
  3. Meet all federal, state/provincial, and local solid waste and recycling regulations.
  4. Data provided to USZWBC has been published formally.
  5. Data documents a base year and measurements since the base year.
  6. Commit to submit 12 months of data to USZWBC annually (Data submitted will be public and published on the USZWBC website).
  7. Case study of zero waste initiatives may be published on USZWBC website.
  8. Recertification is required every three years.
  9. Contamination is not to exceed 10% of each material once it leaves the company site.
Within the ZWCP, certification is awarded at the Bronze, Silver, Gold & Platinum Levels. A scorecard system similar to the U.S Green Building Council LEED Certification Program is used.

Scott Lutocka of Piazza Produce
w/ USZWBC President receiving
ZWCP plaque @ 2014 Conference
Since the ZWCP launch six additional Whole Food Markets achieved bronze zero waste certification status. In addition, the following companies were awarded zero waste certifications: GOLD - American Licorice CompanyANN INC and Piazza Produce; PLATINUM: Fetzer Vineyards and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

To support ZWCP, the USZWB developed the Zero Waste Business Associate (ZWBA) certification system to train professionals on zero waste practices in accordance with ZWCP criteria. Certificate holders gain a practical understanding of current zero waste business principles and practices, USZWBC policies and processes, and demonstrate a clear commitment to professional growth in advancing zero waste.

As of this article, over 150 individuals attended ZWBA training courses hosted at four locations. 

In the future, zero waste standards will require a waste-free product life cycle flowing from raw materials through the manufacturing process and finishing with product end use destination. Circular economy advocates are paving the path towards a zero waste economy. 

The IMPACT Blog article, A Revolutionary Evolution: going from a linear economy to a circular economy, introduces the Circular Economy 100, an Ellen MacArthur Foundation platform to re-think the future.

Elemental Impact is honored to work closely with the USZWBC grounding new industry standards via the ZWCP. As zero waste practices edge closer to circular economy standards, the USZWBC will continue their evolving leadership role working with pioneers committed to a waste-free product life-cycle.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information here! I had no idea about these events! Thanks again and keep going!

  2. The ZWCP Requirements that are shown here are just made perfect. Congratulations on the movement and keep up the great work, the world needs more of that.