Zero Waste Certification

What is Zero Waste Certification and How to Create Zero Waste?

In Recycling, Waste Management, Zero Waste Certification by David FahrionLeave a Comment

The Zero Waste Certification process appraises how efficiently organizations are able to carry out the reduction of non-hazardous solid waste and utilize resources to optimize their output. It’s a long-drawn process that involves focusing on both upstream processes as well as policies by implementing industry best practices that make zero waste possible, as opposed to focusing solely on the output.

Most importantly, facilities should have sustainable systems in place that effectively introduce zero waste materials into the environment. An organization pursuing a Zero Waste Certification must be able to meet the criteria by systematically reducing its use of raw materials and enhancing production efficiency, while minimizing environmental waste and understanding how to reduce waste overall.

Establishing zero waste policies also helps entities convert waste into profits, since decreasing waste leads to long term cost savings. Such entities are able to reduce greenhouse emissions, reduce trivial waste and pollution and create sustainable value that benefits the surrounding community. Organizations that pursue Zero Waste Certification are required to divert a certain percentage (sometimes up to 90%) of their waste away from the surrounding environment, landfills or incinerators.

In crux, obtaining a Zero Waste Certification comes with the following benefits:

  • Facilitates in mitigating air, water, and land pollution that are detrimental to both health and the surrounding atmosphere
  • Helps reduce overall costs and thus, improves net profitability
  • Increases the use of recycled materials which lessens an organization’s reliance on polluting supplies, and reduces its overall carbon footprint
  • Enhances an organization’s brand value by showcasing its responsibility and commitment to the local society and environment

How to Create Zero Waste

It is important to understand what exactly Zero Waste entails before attempting to adopt such techniques. The standard definition as provided by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is: ‘The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health’.

Zero Waste is a concept that supports altering material life cycles so that all material outputs can be reused. The goal of Zero Waste is to eliminate the transfer of generated waste to the surrounding environment, incinerators, landfills, or water bodies, including the oceans. The recommended procedures draw on the natural processes happening all around us in the natural world.

As a concept, Zero Waste offers guiding principles for uninterrupted operation while eliminating all waste. Zero Waste can be achieved through proper waste management and through the implementation of techniques that focus on the prevention of waste, as opposed to traditional downstream waste management. It’s a holistic approach that looks towards revolutionizing the way in which resources flow through systems and communities, with an ultimate goal of zero waste. However, Zero Waste focuses on much more than reusing and recycling, emphasizing the modification of production and delivery systems.

Governments frequently set industry waste management goals and occasionally even provide incentives. Most governments even implement waste management projects at a local level, utilizing shared regional level facilities.

To achieve the goal of Zero Waste, manufacturing companies and product designers should focus on producing products that can either be easily broken down for recycling, can be reused industrially in the production of another product, or can be naturally broken down by the surrounding environment (biodegradable).

Additionally, the products should be durable and repairable, which increases their usable life cycle and lessens the unnecessary waste of resources and raw materials. Manufacturers and designers should also focus on minimal or environmentally friendly packaging which doesn’t add waste after serving its purpose.

The "Zero Waste Hierarchy" concept illustrates a hierarchy of policies and plans to sustain the Zero Waste system, ranging from the most ideal to the least preferable uses of resources. Structured in a manner that can be applied to anyone from law-makers to businesses and everyday folk, the aim of the concept is to provide a deeper insight into the internationally popular 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and has, to a certain extent, been incorporated into recycling regulations and resource conservation policies across the globe.

The Zero Waste Hierarchy also serves to bolster policy making, implementation, and fundraising or investment at the peak of the hierarchy, and to offer guidance to those wanting to implement waste elimination processes or produce goods that bring them as close to Zero Waste as possible. It also offers ways and methods to strategize and evaluate resources.

The Cradle to Cradle Methodology

In addition to the Zero Waste Hierarchy, there exists another design that has become prevalent with regards to zero waste: the ”Cradle to Cradle” design. Traditional product manufacturing methods, which lead to products and waste being disposed of in landfills, i.e. graves, is known as “Cradle to Grave”. Cradle to Cradle is the complete opposite of Cradle to Grave. It emphasizes on developing industrial systems where resources and goods circulate in closed loops, resulting in minimal waste production and the facilitation of the recycling and use of waste products. Cradle to Cradle envisages a world which deals with issues beyond the formation of wastes. The design attempts to address issues at the origin and restructures problems by focusing on formation, rather than elimination.

The Cradle to Cradle methodology has consistently been developed from a concept to reality. The philosophy seeks to simulate natural processes in modern-day industrial manufacturing and design procedures and is fomenting a novel generation of resource and supply flows in the global manufacturing sphere. Within the natural ecosystem, there exists a well-defined, closed-loop resource flow, and goods manufactured under the Cradle to Cradle design also move in closed-loops, providing resources for the environment or other businesses, with the end goal being to encompass materials and processes that produce resources or supplies for other processes or products at all stages.

Unfortunately, until now government policies tend to focus more on discarding and recycling waste, rather than reusing the materials. Zero Waste for the large part received inadequate governmental support, typically in the form of feeble or ineffective laws that aim to implement the hierarchy of refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and compost or rot.

When Can Zero Waste Be Implemented?

In principle, Zero Waste can be implemented at any point and at any time to any procedure. It can be applied to both chemical processes as well as non-toxic plant materials, carbon emissions, or even radioactive emissions. Every procedure can be structured to minimize the amount of waste produced at any step throughout the process.

Taking the Zero Waste philosophy further, it can even be considered when tackling the ongoing global problem of wasted human potential as a result of poverty and lack of suitable opportunities, as well as in the area of decreasing energy wasted in production and logistics, and in the preservation of natural forests.

Recycling, which had initially begun with the narrower goal of reducing waste, has now taken the shape of a global movement that encompasses entire areas addressing sustainability issues within society.

Zero Waste however is not simply limited to waste management but takes advantage of the existing efforts to reuse and incorporates them into production processes, while implementing novel ways that reduce and replace conventional disposal methods like incineration and landfills. Take this for example, certain individuals are making their own concerted efforts to help with the zero waste initiative by living a zero waste lifestyle in an RV!

Conflicting Views About Zero Waste

Amidst all the positives and benefits that the Zero Waste philosophy offers, there are conflicting views that question whether the philosophy is truly sustainable. The contrary view questions whether a product which is reusable, non-toxic, and repairable in nature can be as good as, or even superior, to a single use product. The simplistic computable waste recycling or reuse calculations look to be a useful method superficially, yet an entire movement based on the goal of eliminating the last 5-10 percent of waste may ultimately only be achieved at the unfortunate cost of atmospheric or sustainability factors which are yet to be discovered.

There are differences in how Zero Waste is interpreted too. In the waste business, many entities consider Zero Waste to be the recycling of resources after they’ve already been discarded, while others consider the major differentiator for Zero Waste to be the reuse of products and materials.

Additionally, many experts consider nature as the ultimate inspiration for manufacturing systems and processes pertaining to reusable and repairable products. The contrarian view points out that manufactured products are intrinsically artificial and that processes copied from nature, that make use of degradable and restructured materials, may only add to cost and lead to more waste of resources, while industrial reuse processes facilitate well-equipped and efficient methodologies.

The Commitment to a Zero Waste World

In spite of all the clatter surrounding Zero Waste, the idea has grown in the form of a movement among the younger generation under the patronage of the Zero Waste Youth, an organization that originated in Brazil whose influence has reached other countries like Argentina, USA, and Russia.

Many global enterprises have also committed to implementing the Zero Waste philosophy throughout their organization. General Motors (GM) had declared that it will convert about half of its manufacturing plants across to globe to achieve "landfill-free" status, setting a goal to reuse or recycle at least 905 of its supplies and raw materials. Many more business entities like Xerox and Toyota are following suit and establishing landfill-free plants.

About the Author

David Fahrion

David Fahrion serves as the President of Waste Control after a 40-year career in the waste and recycling industry. Prior to joining Waste Control, he worked exclusively for CR&R and its affiliates since 1986 serving as the President of the Solid Waste Management Division. During his career, he worked on all facets of the solid waste management business from dispatching and routing to contract negotiations and state facility permitting.