A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Your Company Landfill-Free

Follow these nine suggestions to transform your business into a zero waste facility. They’ll help the environment – and make your employees happier.
May 23, 2016 2:15 PM ET
Campaign: GM Waste Reduction
General Motors South Africa employee Luvuyo Magquntulu disposes of a glass bottle in a recycling bin per company policy. Photograph: General Motors

A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Your Company Landfill-Free

Businesses generate billions of tons of industrial solid waste each year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Much of it gets dumped in landfills, which become hubs for wasted resources and greenhouse gases.

Companies are changing their ways, as many seek to build landfill free – also known as zero waste – production processes. That means all the waste generated from their normal operations is reused, recycled or converted to energy.

There are numerous business benefits to running an operation that doesn’t send any waste to a landfill – greater efficiency, extra revenue from recycling scrap and an empowered workforce, to name a few.

No matter the size of a company, best practices can help it become landfill free. Here are nine steps that all businesses should follow:

1. Track waste data

Data is the backbone of any zero waste initiative. After all, an organization cannot manage what it does not measure. A single resource data management system can help a company track its waste streams and comprehend all materials generated, reused and recycled. Data can help create specific facility goals and reveal opportunities to climb the waste reduction hierarchy.

2. Define zero waste

Maintain a common and consistent definition of “landfill free” that includes steps and procedures. For example, General Motors’ definition specifies that:

  • All waste is generated from periodic, ongoing or day-to-day operations.
  • Byproducts must be disposed by any method except placement in a landfill.
  • Byproduct materials sent to an offsite recycling or processing center and subsequently landfilled must not exceed 1% of the company facility’s total annual waste production, by weight.

GM’s 131 landfill free facilities reuse, recycle or convert to energy all waste from daily operations. The amount of waste the company recycles and reuses in a year – about 2.5m metric tons – is enough to fill 38m garbage bags.

3. Prioritize waste reduction

Companies should first focus on eliminating or reducing byproducts. Reuse should be considered next, followed by recycling and composting; onsite recycling and composting are better than offsite because they generate less environmental impact. Finally, businesses should work on recovering energy from materials.

4. Build a sustainability culture

Leaders should create rewards for new waste reduction ideas and encourage employees to develop jobs that keep the environment in mind.

Target certain byproduct streams for innovative projects, then let everyone know the solutions and formalize the process. Engage team members in making material substitutions and changes.

5. Strengthen supplier partnerships

Build a strong network of suppliers committed to keeping materials in use. Hire resource managers – experts in waste elimination and reduction – to help. Resource management is a strategic alternative to waste management that can help improve resource efficiency.

The contractors’ activities should align with the company’s strategic goals and objectives, and all byproducts should be included in the process.

6. Resolve regulatory challenges

Sometimes government regulations require disposal of certain materials, but there may be solutions to avoid landfilling. Work with regulatory agencies to help them understand potential options for waste streams that are challenging. Discuss ways to best manage them using sound scientific principles.

Smaller companies may partner with bigger companies or join a business association to do this.

7. Achieve landfill free status

Once a significant amount of byproducts are managed without landfilling, take inventory and finalize a plan to divert all remaining waste streams. When this has been validated by an expert, let the facility and corporate teams know.

Smaller companies that may not have a landfill free expert can create a green task force. A lot can be accomplished with an enthusiastic team of people who have facility, energy and environmental experience.

8. Improve efforts

Companies should continue to make waste reduction better even after becoming landfill free. Setting goals fosters improvement and helps encourage employees to maintain momentum. Companies should also consider sharing ideas and engaging in new projects with external environmental groups that are dedicated to waste elimination and materials efficiency.

9. Share best practices

Companies must continue to openly discuss best practices and work together to brainstorm uses for challenging byproducts. Many businesses deal with the same waste streams, from packaging to paper and metals. Offer site tours and swap ideas on how to cut landfill deposits.

Organizations should network to identify and drive new opportunities for themselves and the waste community at large. Helping others helps the environment as a whole, and ensures the robust infrastructure of effective partners necessary for all to succeed.

Reposted from TheGuardian.com/General-Motors-Partner-Zone with permission.