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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Key steps to zero waste success

For those embarking on the zero waste journey the path to success is well worn and filled with exceptional support. National organizations like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) mentor companies new to the journey with webinars, training sessions and conferences. The USZWBC Annual National Zero Waste Conference is a perfect venue to learn from industry veterans via the powerful program. 

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency is committed to Sustainable Materials Management (SMM). Through their Waste Wise and Food Recovery Challenge programs, the EPA offers webinars, tool kits and resources to those serious about waste reduction. The ZWA Blog article, Sustainability: an industry defining itself - a recap of the 2015 SPC Advance Conference - gives an overview of the EPA SMM Strategic Plan FY 2017 - FY 2022 under development.

At a local level most states have government agencies | departments and non-profit organizations dedicated to waste reduction support. In addition, county | city governments often offer tools based on the local infrastructure available. Google searches are an easy way to identify available resources.

With the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) 2009 launch at an acclaimed press conference, Elemental Impact learned steps to zero waste success. These steps flow into two main categories: Collaboration is key to success and Take baby steps, lots & lots of baby steps.

Collaboration is key to success:
The ZWZ launch was the culmination of federal, state & local government, trade associations, non-profits and the private sector working together in unison on a common mission. Each player was critical to the ultimate success.  

Collaborative ZWZ Team at
Buckhead Zone May 2009 Launch
From the government, the EPA, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sustainability Division and the City of Atlanta represented the federal, state and local supporting resources. The Green Foodservice Alliance | Georgia Restaurant Association,and later the National Restaurant Association, were the backbone trade associations who rallied their members. Atlanta Recycles | Georgia Recycling Coalition provided industry expertise to those entering the zero waste frontier.

In addition, ZWZ Participants worked together to document lessons learned and encouraged their colleagues to join the important movement. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened their back-of-the-house operations to fellow hotel operators for source-separating food collection for composting education. It was inspiring to witness the camaraderie among competitors with respect to perfecting zero waste practices. Resulting quotes: This is EASY, a no-brainer, why would you not separate food waste for compost collection?

Recommendation: Connect with seasoned zero waste veterans to seek their advice on getting started, supplier recommendations and lessons learned. In general, these pioneers are happy to share with you and serve as mentors. In addition, connect with government, trade association and non-profit available resources dedicated to waste reduction and food recovery efforts.

Take baby steps, lots & lots of baby steps:
Embarking on a zero waste journey may appear daunting, filled with tremendous operational and behavior change. By breaking the journey into baby steps, the overwhelming energy dissipates in accomplishment. Here is a proven baby step pattern:
  1. Secure top management buy-in - best to also secure Board of Directors support who are responsible to the organization's shareholders.
  2. Identify a "Green Team" from across departments led by a passionate individual in a decision making capacity; for non-management team members, ensure zero waste support is written into job review criteria so they are recognized, versus penalized, for their participation.
  3. Perform a waste audit | material characterization study to set the current baseline; in addition to material type, identify the department source; important for crafting a game plan as well as establishing success metrics.
  4. Quantify value of material in waste stream along with the current disposal cost.
  5. Understand the local recycling markets and haulers available for the material.
  6. Identify "easy win" areas, whether a material type, specific loading dock area (if multiple areas) or another category; prioritize the "easy wins" & give responsibility to team members for action plan development.
    Effective signage at
    Earth Friendly Products
  7. Determine incentives for employee engagement including their suggestions and input.
  8. Develop an implementation plan filled with "baby steps" over specified periods of time; include success metrics along with rewards.
  9. Document the business reasons for implementation; include tangible (cost-savings | revenue generation) and intangible (employee morale | marketing opportunities).
  10. Incorporate an internal zero waste plan communication strategy including fun, effective signage throughout the facility.
  11. Present the well-documented plan to top management for approval.
  12. Begin implementation process, documenting progress along with rewarding success and reminders for compliance.
  13. Review progress on monthly or other specific basis and adjust plan accordingly.
  14. Communicate success & goals internally and externally (if benefits company).

In addition to the above steps, the following practices are often cornerstones in successful programs:
  • Top management participates in a waste audit and sees firsthand valuable resources the company pays to landfill; often results in new practices eliminating purchases (switch from disposable to reusable coffee cups) and reducing use (install paper product dispensers); an effective tool to keep top management focused on zero waste success.
  • Formal employee engagement program seeking suggestions for improved zero waste practices; often production line employees experience wasteful practices not seen by management.
  • Zero waste evolves into the corporate culture; zero waste culture is incorporated within the new hire interview and training process; signage is placed throughout the facility to emphasize the importance in daily activities.
  • Fun, lighthearted communication for a serious message.
  • Continuing employee education re: at work and personal zero waste practices along with opportunity for employee feedback.
The original zero waste frontier is conquered with multitudes of impressive successful programs. For those embarking on the journey, there is a well-worn path to follow where often the most biggest challenge is CHANGE!

While they are happy to share and mentor on basic material management practices, the pioneers are forging evolving zero waste frontiers. With no distinct destination, true zero waste continues to redefine itself. ... and so the journey continues with pioneers seguing into industry heroes.

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