Zero Waste

Waste is a Sign of Inefficiency. Try Zero Waste in 2021.

January 14, 2021

Waste is a sign of inefficiency. Miriam Webster defines waste as:

...damaged, defective, or superfluous material produced by a manufacturing process: such as

(1) : material rejected during a textile manufacturing process and used usually for wiping away dirt and oil cotton waste

(2) : scrap

(3) : an unwanted by-product of a manufacturing process, chemical laboratory, or nuclear reactor...

Biological processes create waste, but do so in a way that efficiently extracts vital ingredients and discards the rest, which then become food for other organisms. Industrial processes, on the other hand, produce goods with a shorter life span and more packaging, by using unnecessary material during manufacturing or transportation, leading to more waste.

According to a World Bank report, the amount of waste generated will double by 2025 to 6 million tonnes per day. Higher income levels and urbanization contribute to more waste per capita because of increased access to consumer products in cities. In the US alone, per capita waste generation is around 4.4 lbs per day, about a quarter of the world's waste, but only 34% is being recycled or composted.  

Assuming current demographic and per capita waste production trends continue, waste generation will peak after 2100. If population growth increases, this peak will occur even later. 

Only in a scenario with a smaller and wealthier global population with more sustainable consumption patterns does garbage volume peak this century. See the chart below:

Read more here.

The solution is not to recycle and compost more, but to design the process to produce less waste (extremely less!) in the first place. Enter Zero Waste.

Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) defines zero waste as:

“...a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

ZWIA advocates for 90% or more diversion from landfill, incineration (waste to energy) and the broader environment (littering). 

What does this mean for your business or institution?

Waste Audit

If you haven't already done so for your business or facility, conducting a waste audit is beneficial for the following reasons:

-Understand the composition of your waste stream. For example, how much plastic waste vs aluminum cans vs food waste is generated by your facility.

-Keep track of all waste by weight or volume so you can compare against later audits.

-Document by commodity to stay aware of trends that affect secondary markets. Import bans by China, which took effect Jan 1st 2018, impacts curbside recycling of certain materials.

-Become more streamlined by producing less waste, decreasing costs and helping the environment.

-Publish a yearly open sustainability report for your clients and employees.

Green Building Certification Inc.’s True Zero Waste Certification program suggests tracking waste by following categories:

  • Reuse
  • Paper
  • Plant trimmings
  • Putrescible/food
  • Wood
  • Ceramics
  • Soils
  • Metals
  • Glass
  • Polymers
  • Textiles
  • Chemical


The first and most important step in achieving zero waste is to get buy-in from key stakeholders including management, employees and facilities. When the upper management is convinced to adopt a zero waste goal, it instills a strong culture throughout the organization that becomes the new norm. 

A program that highlights its zero waste mission and incentivizes its employees and suppliers to hit diversion targets sees better long term benefits. IKEA has set the bar high when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with its People and Planet Positive Strategy. 

Even as it sets aggressive targets to double sales by 2020, it strives to divert 90% waste from landfill from its operations and 80% or more from its stores and distribution centers. 95% of IKEA co-workers state that "sustainability is a natural part of everyday work".

Review Supply Chain

  1. Understand where all the material at your office or business is being sourced from.
  2. Use the waste audit results to evaluate your inventory to make sure you are neither over-stocking nor under-utilizing.
  3. Do your suppliers and vendors also show the same level of commitment? If not, are they willing to work with your sustainability mission? Work with them to cut down on wasteful/un-necessary packaging.
  4. Reuse pallets. Many suppliers refund money for returned pallets.
  5. Before discarding equipment or furniture, ask internally whether your employees would like to use them

Office/Building Supplies

  1. Does your office or building have a cafeteria or a kitchen? Does it currently have Single Use plastics such as bags, straws, cups, plates, cutlery, etc.? If you have access to a dishwasher, switch to a reusable or durable option to reduce costs and waste.
  2. Recycle used office paper and ensure double-sided printing to follow a best use philosophy.
  3. Can non-recyclable packaging be up-cycled into more useful products? For example, organize a social event to turn broken wood pallets or plastic waste into decorative art that can be displayed.


  1. Use the results of the waste audit to determine what percentage of your business' waste can be recycled or composted? For example, 90% of restaurant waste can be recycled or composted, hence diverted from landfill. For your industry's average waste footprint, look up CalRecycle's waste categorization report.
  2. Set up recycle bins at the right locations in your facility to facilitate ease of recycling for employees.
  3. Got a yard in your facility? Or a cafeteria or a kitchen in your building or office? Ask your waste hauler if they provide a curbside pickup service for your compostable waste. If they don't, start your in-house program and use the compost to fertilize your lawn or yard. It is the easiest way to lower your monthly hauler costs.
  4. Consider using an Anaerobic Digester to convert food waste and other organics into biogas and fertilizer.
  5. Close the loop by growing your own food with the by-products.


Congratulations! If you have made it this far, don't forget to evaluate the impact of this exercise by summarizing the results.

  1. Reduce Waste: Total Waste generated, Total Waste reduced, Total Waste diverted from landfill and incineration.
  2. Save Money: Amount you saved on reduced inventory, operations, supplies and monthly hauling costs from right-sizing your containers/dumpsters.
  3. Help the Environment: Use the EPA WARM model to evaluate Greenhouse Gas emission reductions from source reduction, using alternative material, recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion and landfilling/incineration.

For more info on how to perform an automated waste audit, quantify your waste reduction, cost savings and environmental benefits, contact us and one of our experienced Zero Waste advisors will get in touch with you.