Talk is cheap. Everybody is talking about “zero waste” as the latest buzzword around efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.  But put to the test, “zero waste” is an extremely significant accomplishment that demonstrates a company’s success in virtually eliminating waste that ends up in the landfill. This notable feat deserves the respect and attention of industry peers and consumers alike. Unfortunately, self-designated “zero waste” claims are largely meaningless due to overuse and lack of validation.

So what does it mean to chase and truly achieve the goal of sending zero waste to the landfill?  How can it be proven?  Why is it a goal worthy of pursuit?

The Multiple Meanings of “Zero Waste”

Each year, approximately 7.6 billion tons of industrial solid waste are generated and disposed of at a broad spectrum of American industrial facilities alone (this does not include municipal waste.)  Landfill materials leach into soil, water and air, polluting the environment and creating vast heaps of waste that don’t quickly decompose. Continuing to pile inorganic, hazardous waste into landfills in current quantities is simply not sustainable.

In response to the problem, environmentalists adopted the term “zero waste.” In many cases, zero waste can be described as a philosophy more than a clearly specified accomplishment, and in most contexts, zero waste is the goal.  Commonly, third party programs award “zero waste” recognition based on a company’s willingness to follow certain environmental principles intended to reduce waste generation. Others offer “zero waste” designations for facilities that are diverting 90% of their discard from the landfill.  Internally, many companies boast of “zero waste” programs designed to reduce waste, though these may not mark a specific accomplishment of waste reduction and do not involve third party validation.  While all of these “zero waste” efforts and claims are driven by the best of intentions for increased sustainability, they ultimately confuse consumers, lack clear results, and dilute the significance of the claims of companies that do truly achieve zero waste to landfill.

A Look at true Zero Waste to Landfill

Passionate about supporting companies in their efforts to operate more sustainable businesses, UL offers a series of waste reduction claims that are both specific and measurable, providing meaningful designations to companies that accomplish meaningful waste diversion goals.

UL offers three very specific validated claims:

  • Zero Waste to Landfill – The most impressive designation, this claim is awarded by UL after a facility has been audited and proven that it consistently achieves a landfill waste diversion rate of 100%.
  • Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill – This designation is reserved for facilities that have achieved a landfill diversion rate of 98% or greater.
  • Landfill Diversion Rate – This claim may be validated if a facility achieves a landfill diversion rate of greater than or equal to 80%. UL will denote the specific diversion rate on the validated claim mark.

To earn any of these three claims, a company must undergo a thorough audit in which UL examines and verifies the validity of the claim.  Companies in a variety of industries are leading the way in making reduction of waste a priority for their businesses.  They are exploring both proven and creative new measures such as materials reuse, recycling, energy creation, and reengineering to reduce waste.

Here are a few examples:

  • In its Wilson, NC plant, tire producer Bridgestone Americas  recycles its processing oil on-site.  The company also ships rubber unable to be reused in-house to a sister retread plant where it saves raw material and mixing cost.
  • Apple products manufacturer, Mayer Brothers, tracks and measures nineteen different recyclable commodities as they leave the plant. They save truckloads of these materials and trade them for cash when collected in appreciable amounts.
  • Waste Management‘s PGA event, the popular WM Phoenix Open, engages over 500,000 spectators and trains 1,000+ volunteer recycling ambassadors, to help divert all waste from this event from landfills.

Big, Green Benefits

 Exploring zero waste claims validation for competitive advantage and marketing benefit is a smart way to start. Yet once they have entered into the process of earning the validation, many companies realize other benefits across every area of the business: big, green benefits that reduce environmental impact and save money.

From improved visibility and cost-savings in their operational processes, to identification of new waste materials that can be collected and sold in bulk, to seeing employees carry home with them a new mentality about contributing personally to sustainability efforts, UL Environment landfill diversion claim earners have seen impacts across their businesses and across the bottom line.  Here are some of the benefits our clients have experienced:

 Save money– As a result of the careful zero waste auditing process, GAF, a provider of roofing materials, discovered that one supplier was inadvertently double-billing them and immediately addressed the problem.

  • Improve operational efficiency – During the audit process, companies learn about their operational processes – from inefficiencies to new materials that could be used.  This often results in improvements in the way things are done.
  • Differentiate – By earning a third party validated claim from a trusted source since 1894, consumers, partners, and thought leaders all know that claim earners are serious about their accomplishments.
  • Set an example – Companies that lead in sustainability set an example for their employees.  Bridgestone saw a change in behaviors among employees regarding their role in reducing waste – habits that they carry home to their own families and friends.
  • Reduce liability – By taking a proactive stance on sustainability, companies can reduce their liability.
  • Do good! – Not least of all, companies know that saving the planet for future generations is the right thing to do for the environment and posterity.

As different as their approaches, motivations, and methods may be, one thing that all UL Zero Waste and Waste Diversion claim earners agree on is that it’s a journey – not a destination.  No matter where they started, they all agree that as soon as they reach a particular milestone, they always see a way to improve.

The reality of waste diversion is that it’s a journey that involves tracking, measuring, constant improvement and is generally achieved after several years of continuous improvement.  For those that achieve Zero Waste, they earn the right to boast their accomplishment and yet bear the burden of paving new paths of progress as leaders in sustainability.

For companies serious about their efforts to reduce waste, it’s well worth a moment of your time to explore your options.

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