If you’re looking to improve sustainability in the workplace, waste tracking would be the furthest thing from a waste of time. With extra emphasis on greener practices – and the help of technology and reporting – businesses can discover how to reduce waste headed for the landfill and the emissions that come with waste.
Because growth and increased product volume often go hand-in-hand, waste reduction isn’t a simple answer. But what’s important is seeing the opportunity behind waste.
How Waste Impacts Business Sustainability
Waste created in operations and factories plays a significant role in your environmental impact. The issues go beyond the landfill. For example, the large-scale processing, packaging, and transportation of food and goods requires a lot of energy and produces greenhouse gasses (GHGs).
Overproduction across business segments compounds the issue of corporate waste. For example, in U.S. agriculture, we seefood and cattle farms produce 10% of GHGs. Waste from agriculture comes to 1.8 billion tonnes (2 billion tons) of discarded food every year. Ripples of this food loss have many impacts. Landfills get larger and smellier. Decomposing food puts GHGs into the atmosphere, and methane from cattle adds to roughly 25% of harmful emissions from the agriculture sector.
In other business sectors, disposable items contribute to microplastics in our water, and incinerating these materials emits GHGs that heat up the planet. Roughly 50% of plastics are designed as single-use items. For reference, consumer packaged goods (CPG) created 14.5 million tonnes (almost 16 million tons) of plastic in 2018. Only an estimated 9% of that is recycled, and 16% is combusted with energy recovery. This leaves 75% for landfills.
There’s a lot of ground to make up. Fortunately, companies have access to tools, partners, and exciting programs to jumpstart waste reduction. We put together three concepts to help you mold waste reduction plans to fit your ESG goals and set you up for interesting business opportunities.
What Can You Do About Waste Reduction?
A commitment to waste tracking and reduction can lead you down several paths. For example, you may change how you source materials or tweak manufacturing processes.
There are a lot of choices. No matter the route you take, improvements start by building waste tracking into your sustainability reporting practices. With the data, you can more easily identify where and how to save energy, conserve resources, and identify cost savings.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to jumpstart waste reduction, keep these three concepts on your radar:
1. Sustainable Supply Chain
Companies should think about a product’s lifecycle to identify and eliminate wasteful practices. A sustainable supply chain means that all aspects incorporate best practices for the environment, from material sourcing, to production, to storage, to distribution, etc.
When retailers and suppliers work toward the same goal, real change can happen. For example, the 10x20x30 Initiative is a commitment by the 10 largest food retailers to engage 20 of their leading suppliers to cut their food waste in half by 2030. This means that mega-companies like Walmart are holding their suppliers and partners responsible for more sustainable practices.
If you are not a participant in the program, modeling your operations to meet standards set by the 10x20x30 Initiative and similar programs gives you a good direction while aligning your business for significant partnerships.
Case Study: Thriving in Walmart’s Project Gigaton:
See how the SustainaBase technology helps businesses meet standards for programs like Walmart’s Project Gigaton.
Big brands aren’t the only entities pushing for improvements. Governments around the world are increasingly offering tax incentives to companies that can prove greener practices in reports and documentation. In many regions, businesses are required to operate within specific environmental regulations. This trend is likely to continue, so ensuring you are heading in the right direction now will set you up for compliance as federal and international regulations grow for manufacturing, importing, and exporting materials.
2. Reduce Waste with Fresh Sustainability Reporting
How much of your inventory sits in a warehouse only to wind up discarded as lost product? A big part of waste reduction is ensuring inventory moves out the door and into the hands of consumers.
Keeping track of inventory might be your supply chain or warehouse manager’s responsibility, but plugging into their data and building a waste-reduction plan for products, ingredients, and components is a great way to operate more sustainably while improving company profitability. Consider cross-referencing expiration dates with reseller standards to avoid rejected shipments from vendors and resellers. You can also build a process to donate or reuse expired materials instead of sending them to the landfill.
To do this, your business needs sustainability technology to track and monitor the initiatives that are put in place to recycle, donate, and/or divert unusable materials and ingredients and unsellable finished products.
3. Zero Waste for Disposal
In short, this approach to zero waste means that no factory waste goes to landfills or is incinerated without energy being recovered. This can be achieved through material and packaging reduction strategies, composting, recycling, energy production, and providing products for animal feed and/or identifying donation options.
First, begin by tracking and monitoring a baseline of different waste streams relevant to your facilities, such as incineration, landfill, recycling, and composting. Track the volume and calculate the carbon emissions. Then, automate and monitor ongoing tracking while you launch waste reduction initiatives. Also, consider more optimized waste treatment methods, such as waste-to-energy, if you have access to these resources by your facilities. This will enable you to see the impacts of your initiatives and the conversion of waste to money as you identify savings opportunities.
Waste tracking technology like SustainaBase offers you the reporting you need for a zero-waste program. By connecting the relevant data from your enterprise resource planning (ERP), inventory management systems, or other sources, you gain visibility into business systems to empower smarter sustainability planning with leaders from around the business.
Attention and action in this area are growing, which brings opportunities for creative solutions. For example, Goodr offers a food waste recycling program and system. There are also many opportunities for companies to work within their local, non-profit, and business community to find win:win situations for short-dated and unsellable ingredients and finished goods.
When it comes to office waste, TerraCycle, the recycling platform enabling companies to recycle even the most difficult materials, offers many programs. For example, a workplace can collect a bunch of one kind of item, like used pens, disposable gloves, or coffee capsules, and ship them back in bulk to TerraCycle, and TerraCycle will recycle them for you. It’s an easy way to recycle items that cannot be processed via curbside recycling.
Get Started with Waste Tracking
Tracking waste is an important step in understanding your company’s environmental footprint and how you can reduce waste without impacting your customers, partners, or the bottom line. If you look at programs like Walmart’s Project Gigaton, it’s getting harder to forge new partnerships without a waste-reduction plan – giving sustainability reporting strategic value to the business.
So how do you advance sustainability in the workplace?
- Focus on reporting that shows you where you are today.
- Build a strategy, be it zero waste, a program like the 10x20x30 Initiative, tighter supply chain operations, or another initiative.
- Consider technology that improves or even automates reporting – so you can focus on meeting waste reduction and other ESG goals.
While making this a priority requires time, collaboration, and careful planning, it offers many benefits to the business. Tracking your waste shows just how much you can prevent, and the data often creates the “aha” moment where you find the best waste reduction plan. From there, you can use data to show the results in terms of waste reduction, energy creation, and cost savings in your operations.
Looking for help? Connect with SustainaBase to learn more about building intelligence that will put your business ahead.