The following is Part 3 of our blog series on Zero Waste, written by William F. Hoffman III Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Corporate Fellow at UL Environment.

In my last blog entry I talked about how discarded materials are recognized in the facility and are managed in the context of UL ECVP 2799, Zero Waste to Landfill.  This week I’ll talk about what diversion routes are specified in the procedure and the overall goals of the UL Zero Waste claim validation program.

Before describing the recognized diversion routes, I’d like to talk about two fundamental goals of the validation procedure – consistency of measure and transparency. UL was first approached to create a procedure to measure waste diversion because there was uncertainty in the market around what diversion claims meant.  It was unclear what was included and what was not in the diversion program at most companies making diversion claims.  In some cases, the fine print would say the cafeteria waste or hazardous substances were not included in the diversion efforts, other times there was no information about what was included.

At the same time the diversion routes used were not clear. Some companies would divert more than 50% by Waste to Energy (WtE) while others would not allow any WtE in their diversion calculations.  In some cases WtE was described as a bio fuel because the source material was used wood from construction debris or used palettes. This diversity of definitions and limits has contributed to considerable confusion over the meaning of the claims. It leads us to the second basic principle of the validation procedure, which is transparency.  Every claim made using the procedure must include the percentage diverted and the percentage sent for WtE with a clear definition of what is included in WtE vs. other diversion routes.

The latest version of the validation procedure also treats all facilities accepting material for processing the same way. They each need to have current permits to accept the material being sent there, if permits are required, and they must be accepting the material with the intent to process it according to the documented diversion route. In addition, the emissions from processing, be they solid, liquid or air emissions, are properly treated, disposed or diverted. All recycling has some waste and some of those wastes contain hazardous substances. The validation procedure doesn’t distinguish between waste generated from plastics recycling, paper recycling, biofuels processing, composting or WtE. All material processors are held to the same standard of operation and the wastes must be properly treated. The second issue common to all material processors is that the site seeking validation of waste diversion cannot hide non-recyclable materials by sending mixed recyclable and non-recyclable materials to a material processor. If the material being sent does not match what the recycler is willing to process, the site would be out of compliance with the procedure and need to clean up the mixed waste.  In addition, an auditor will examine a statement of acceptable materials from the material processor to look for inconsistencies. If a paper recycler is also accepting plastics mixed with the paper, there might be some doubt about the plastics actually being recycled. An auditor may choose to inspect the recycler in more detail to substantiate the claim that plastic is being recycled in addition to the paper they are accepting.

The standard recognizes several diversion routes including, reduce, reuse, recycle (and the related byproduct synergy), composting, anaerobic digestion with energy recovery, biofuel, WtE, incineration and landfill. Landfill and incineration do not count as diverted. Reduction in the generation of waste is part of the common hierarchy of reduce/reuse/recycle and is often the preferred route to minimizing waste. Calculating the amount of material saved or not discarded because of reduction can be a bit tricky. Reduced material is defined as the amount of material or product which is no longer discarded because of changes in the methods, processes or materials used by the entity which avoid the generation of discarded materials. Next in the hierarchy is reuse which is a material or product which is employed in a particular function or application as an effective substitute for a new commercial product. Typically the reused product is designed to be reused multiple times for the same purpose. Calculating reuse and reduction are more involved and will be covered in next week’s blog.

Recycling is the conventional definition of recovered or reclaimed material sent for reprocessing into a raw material or input for downstream manufacturing processes and includes materials being sent to recovery through Byproduct Synergy.  Composting includes material which has been sent for processing to create decomposed organic material that is produced when bacteria in soil break down garbage and biodegradable trash, making organic fertilizer.  Anaerobic digestion with energy recovery is material sent for biodegradation in the absence of oxygen, producing methane which is combusted, capturing useful energy such as steam and electricity. Biofuel is the material sent for production of fuel from biomass.  All of these routes are considered diversion.

Incineration is a catch-all for thermal processing. Thermal processing includes incineration, gas plasma, pyrolysis or any other process in excess of 200°C. While anaerobic digestion with energy recovery, biodiesel, and biomass energy are, at some point in their recycling, burned at temperatures above 200°C, they are not considered thermal processing.

Key to any calculation of a ratio is the denominator. For this calculation the numerator is the discarded material, the sum of all of these categories of materials.

Many companies and municipalities are working to reduce waste, with the ultimate goal of achieving zero waste. Numbers to Know: Zero Waste tells how some companies are impacting the environment and the bottom line when it comes to diverting waste from landfills. Next week the blog will cover how to calculate reduce and reuse.