When it comes to sustainability, we have all heard the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Though, there are many practices that you can implement at your facility to achieve additional waste diversion, starting with a physical waste audit. Understanding your waste generation is a first critical step in achieving 100 percent waste diversion, also known as zero waste. Zero waste facilities are becoming the goal of “green” leaders in the market, with some opting for third-party certification through the Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) Zero Waste certification. By following more sustainable practices with respect to waste generation, your facility will be more resource-efficient, you can better manage current and future risk, and you may even see lower operating costs.
Waste Diversion: Beyond the basics
You may already have a recycling program at your facility. That’s a great start for achieving zero waste, but it’s not enough. There are many more waste diversion practices that you can implement, but it takes buy-in throughout the organization. It is important to engage leadership to affirm the company’s zero waste goals. It is equally as important to train employees on any new practices and policies and incentivize their participation. To be successful in achieving zero waste goals, everyone’s participation is critical.
Some zero waste practices you may not have considered include:
- Conducting a physical waste audit at least annually—by physically separating the waste by commodity, you can better understand your wastestream (i.e., weights, level of recoverable materials being thrown in the trash, level of contamination in recycling, etc.) and be able to assess the success of your zero waste program;
- Implementing tracking programs to eliminate waste before it is generated—internally develop organizational tools or consult third-party providers to track the flow of materials throughout your facility operations. Also, perform regular reviews of data to identify any wasteful activities;
- Establishing an Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP) policy to give preference to vendors that embrace recyclable packaging, sustainable material sourcing, and low waste goals;
- Participating in upcycling programs—by using alternative solutions to divert difficult-to-recycle materials (i.e., programs like TerraCycle or repurposing programs in your local area), you will increase your waste diversion; and
- Ensuring bin right-sizing (i.e., that the container volume, quantity of containers, and number of pickups by a hauler for each material type are appropriate for the generation of those materials).
Become Third-Party Certified
After all your waste diversion efforts, you may want to showcase your achievements by obtaining a third-party certification. A third-party certification verifies that you have achieved specific waste diversion goals, and it increases your accountability by requiring the submittal of operational data to professionals outside your company. This increased transparency can build trust with consumers and other stakeholders, bolster your brand image, and distinguish your company in the marketplace.
The TRUE Zero Waste certification system is one way for your facility to be recognized for its commitment to sustainability through waste diversion. The TRUE Zero Waste certification is administered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the organization that certifies Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects. Created in 2013, TRUE is the first third-party zero waste certification system that adheres to the following zero waste definition of the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA):
“Zero Waste is the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning, and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
Projects across the United States and the globe have already been certified by companies that prioritize sustainability and have achieved between 90 percent and 100 percent waste diversion at their facilities. Some notable TRUE Zero Waste certified projects include the Tesla Factory (Fremont, California), Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Mills River, North Carolina and Chico, California), and seven Cintas distribution centers.
TRUE Zero Waste Certification System
The following is an overview of the TRUE Zero Waste certification system.
Who is eligible: Any physical facility (i.e., schools, higher education facilities, government buildings, and private businesses). There are no maximum or minimum size (in square footage) requirements.
Project scope: When trash gets thrown away at your facility, it likely ends up in the landfill or an incinerator. The goal of the TRUE Zero Waste certification is to reduce your impact on the environment by minimizing your wastestreams. The scope of the certification encompasses all solid, nonhazardous waste materials. If liquid wastes are accepted by the local landfill, they will also be included. Wastewater, however, is never included in a project’s scope.
Minimum program requirements: Projects must achieve the seven minimum program requirements (MPRs) to be eligible to earn any credit points in the certification system:
- A company must have a zero waste policy.
- A project must achieve an average of at least 90 percent overall diversion of solid, nonhazardous wastes from landfill, incineration, and the environment for the most recent 12 months.
- A project must meet all federal, state (if applicable), and local solid waste and recycling laws and regulations. In addition, a project must comply with all air, water, and land discharge permits required for the collection, handling, or processing of materials.
- A project must collect (and document) data for a baseline year of waste diversion data, as well as measurements since the base year that adjust for any changes in size, type, or nature of the business.
- Each material stream leaving the site must have less than 10 percent contamination.
- A project must submit 12 months of waste diversion data to GBCI annually to maintain its certification.
- A project must submit a case study of zero waste practices to GBCI.
- Register your project with GBCI.
- Submit documentation and payment.
- Assessment—a preliminary documentation review will be followed by an on-site assessment by a GBCI assessor. GBCI will then prepare a final review report.
- If your project is certified, you will accept and sign off on the final review report.
- You are required to submit waste diversion data to GBCI annually to maintain your certification.
Take Advantage of Synergy
Is your facility already LEED certified? The LEED Zero Waste certification is available for LEED-certified projects that achieve a platinum rating in the TRUE Zero Waste certification system. This holistic approach will emphasize your facility’s commitment to sustainable development.