Zero waste!

Ray Côté
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Burnside Eco-Efficiency

You're looking at your operations and your dumpster and thinking, 'Zero waste? Côté must be dreaming in Technicolor.'

You're looking at your operations and your dumpster and thinking, 'Zero waste? Côté must be dreaming in Technicolor.'

According to Jonathan Bardeline in, a number of large corporations have set zero waste as a goal and are on their way to achieving it. Once you start looking at all of your inputs and the residues from your operations as resources, a goal of zero waste isn't so impractical.

As examples, General Motors has been able to recycle a variety of materials and generated $2.5 billion in revenue in the past four years. GM has already achieved zero waste in 76 of its manufacturing plants and 10 of its non-manufacturing facilities around the world. In one U.S. state, Walmart has cut more than 80 per cent of the waste it had been sending to landfill through supply chain changes, recovery and recycling.

What strategies have these and other companies employed to achieve what may seem to some as a ridiculous goal? The first and most important is to "know what you have". Where does the waste come from? How much of each type of waste is generated?

According to Bardeline, Walmart has identified 100 waste streams in its stores. This can only realistically be done by actually sorting all of the waste in the dumpsters and weighing it. Waste disposal costs hard-earned money. If you look at waste management as part of the activities of your business, part of a resource efficiency and productivity initiative, rather than an overhead add-on, you might also save money.

Once you know what you have, you can then track changes and set goals, especially if the goals are tied to particular operations or activities and waste streams.

The third strategy is to try to "find a new life" for waste resources. One of the things the Eco-Efficiency Centre has been advocating since it was established is the ecological metaphor that "one company's waste is another's raw material". There are a few examples where this has been practiced in Nova Scotia, but much more can be done with a little research and ingenuity.

For example, every week a large truckload of "waste" bread leaves Canada Bread's Ben's Bakery on Pepperell Street in Halifax for use in animal feed.

The final strategy is to get employees actively involved in the process. Bardeline points out that Frito-Lay has site champions, puts employees on waste teams in charge of specific waste streams, creates scorecards and uses waste bills to track reductions in types of waste. GM and other corporations reward employees for especially good waste reduction ideas. Employees know where the waste comes from, but they need to be encouraged by management to reduce, recover or recycle it.

Some of the other companies that are on this path are Procter and Gamble, Caterpillar, Albertson's grocery chain and Frito-Lay, These represent a range of types of business sectors, all of which can be found here in Nova Scotia. As a province, we have set a goal of 300 kg of waste per person per year by 2015. That represents a reduction of 25 per cent from the current state of affairs. Why stop there? Perhaps we should set a longer-term goal of zero waste for 2020.

Ray Côté is a Senior Research Fellow with the Eco-Efficiency Centre, and Professor Emeritus with the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University.

Organizations: General Motors, Walmart, Frito-Lay Eco-Efficiency Centre Canada Bread Procter and Gamble Dalhousie University

Geographic location: Technicolor, U.S., Nova Scotia Pepperell Street Halifax

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