Zero Waste

Your 5 Step Zero Waste Strategy And Action Plan

January 8, 2021

5 Step Plan for Zero Waste Success

Creating a zero waste strategy and action plan is crucial to reaching your organization’s zero waste goals. Read on for a five step process to craft an effective zero waste strategy. 

(1) Set Goals: Zero waste is a marathon, not a sprint. Setting a big, aspirational goal provides a North Star to guide the team, and can inspire team members to step up, think more creatively and take a dynamic approach to problem solving. 

Creating milestones serves to focus efforts and resources on near term goals while aiming for the long term zero waste objective. Incremental goals help to gauge how effective your zero waste program is, and allow for iteration or adjustments. 

(2) Strategy: Your team’s strategy should encompass a full view of your organization’s waste stream from end to end. This means identifying all of the contributors to the waste stream, along with existing infrastructure and policies. Your strategy will need to consider all of these factors, and develop a campaign for each one. 

Thus, a holistic strategy has several areas of focus:

  • Communicating with employees (or students or customers) who consume and dispose of items into your waste stream to educate and nudge them towards behavioral change 
  • Engaging with various stakeholders in decision making roles, which may include: janitorial, custodial and grounds maintenance staff, property management, sustainability or green team, facility management and Employee Health and Safety (EH&S) department
  • Working with 3rd party contractors and businesses on-site, such as caterers, cafes or restaurants and construction or maintenance companies. 
  • Examining existing infrastructure to see if upgrades are required to facilitate better recycling and waste diversion
  • Digging into existing supplier contracts, in order to change purchasing to favor more sustainable goods and services

Identifying the biggest problems and bottlenecks should guide where the team focuses its time and energy. Investigating areas of success to emulate elsewhere is another useful approach. For example: why is the Creative Department better at recycling than the Legal Department? Or why is there more food waste coming out of Floor 4 than that from Floor 9? 

(3) Taking Action

(A) Waste Assessment: Conducting an initial assessment provides a snapshot into the waste stream, offering a glimpse of problematic materials - or areas of success. Staff should assess bin fullness and contamination levels, look for typical contaminants based on information from local haulers like Recology for cities such as San Francisco.

Beyond assessing waste bins, it can be helpful to scrutinize invoices from waste haulers to evaluate whether your bins are sized correctly, or if you are paying for missed pickups. Following the waste assessment, your organization can determine which actions to take. 

(B) Desired Outcomes: Broadly speaking, actions should achieve a combination of these three outcomes: (I) Reducing waste generation, (II) reusing or donating materials and/or (III) recycling or composting materials.

Here are examples for how each outcome can be achieved:

(I) Buy reusable dishware/cutlery and phase out disposable dishware/cutlery in the kitchen

(II) Partner with a “food rescue” organization like, who picks up extra food and donates to those in need 

(III) Create signage by waste bins informing employees that composting food waste is an important way to reduce greenhouse gases

(C) Procurement: Companies can reduce their waste footprint through procurement of sustainable or lower impact goods and services. 

For example, Stanford University began requiring cafes on its campus to maintain landfill, recycling and compost collection bins aligned with its zero waste program, which Stanford estimates will result in 1527 tons of waste diverted by 2030. 

(D) Communication: Engaging with the employees, students or staff who are consuming and disposing of items on-site is critical to inform and nudge them towards behavioral change.

UCSF used data gathered with Zabble Zero to inform the imagery and messaging of digital signs near waste bins on campus. The data highlighted a particular issue in the waste stream, and the content of the signs focused on changing the behavior causing the problem. In one of UCSF’s buildings, the most frequent source of contamination was paper towels. Here's an example of a digital sign targeting this issue:

(4) Track Waste: Measurement can be achieved by conducting intermittent campaigns, which are typically carried out by facility staff or a zero waste consultant. 

(5) Campaigns for Continuous Improvement: Developing methods to track the relative success of each campaign of action allows for rapid feedback and adjustments, creating an iterative cycle that favors continual progress, improvements and nixing ineffective approaches. 

Conclusion: The best zero waste strategies are informed by accurate, consistent and in-depth data. With data that captures waste generation from beginning to end and tracks each of your campaigns towards zero waste, a lean cycle of feedback and optimization is created. 

Like many industries undergoing digital transformation, waste management is beginning to see the benefits of information technology. With better data collection, granularity and transparency via digital solutions, implementing a zero waste program becomes easier and more effective. 

At Zabble, we have created a digital analytics platform and app that serves to catalyze a new paradigm of zero waste programs for organizations. Find out what our platform can do for you by contacting us today.

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