Waste diversion goes far beyond recycling and reducing the amount of waste that is going to the landfill or incineration. It means working to eliminate the concept of waste altogether, as we move towards a circular economy. In many cases, several categories of recyclable materials are banned from the landfill, making recycling mandatory.
When thinking about how your business can reduce waste, and divert waste from the landfill, it is useful to look at the Zero Waste Hierarchy, published by the Zero Waste International Alliance, where prevention through rethinking and redesigning is the first opportunity and disposal of waste that is “unacceptable” for any of the other options is the worst-case scenario for those materials that simply can’t be avoided.
Here at the GreenStep headquarters, we take several steps to reduce and divert our waste following the zero-waste hierarchy, which are things that many businesses can consider.
- Rethink and redesign: The signs we purchase for our GreenStep Sustainable Tourism Certified businesses and destinations are made from 100% aluminum. We had the option of a less expensive product, but it would have not been easily recyclable or as durable.
- Reduce: While we can’t claim to be completely print-free, we do rarely print which has significantly reduced our paper consumption compared to 10 or 15 years ago when we didn’t have the same options for digital signatures and cloud-based computing and filing.
- Reuse: GreenStep has recently purchased gently used office furniture from a local technology company that was downsizing its own offices, as we are refreshing our office space. This is the second set of “new to us” office furniture we have purchased since our inception in 2008. When purchasing new computer equipment, we always look for used or refurbished models first, either locally or through companies that sell certified refurbished products.
- Recycle/Compost: We have several recycling bins in our office, one for items that are commercially collected through our office, one for refundables, and one for the recycling depot for those items that aren’t collected in our local co-mingled recycling streams, including product wrapping, snack wrappers, and glass. Note that each jurisdiction may have different recycling regulations, so check with your recycling hauler about what they will accept, as well as your local government about what can be recycled elsewhere. You can often find private companies that will aggregate items like soft plastics, metals, etc. in your local community. TerraCycle is another option for some materials that may not be accepted locally.
While some communities have mandatory organics or compost pickup, our community does not, so we have purchased a vermicomposter and worms eat our organics! It is easy to manage, doesn’t create bad odours, and every few months we give out the worm castings to our staff for their homes, and use them in our office plants. For businesses that generate a lot of organic waste, like those with F&B services, a larger organics system might be needed such as the Oklin system.
- Material Recovery and Residuals Management – Due to the nature of our business, we don’t have many opportunities for these steps, however, we do request that GreenStep Sustainable Tourism Certified members send us their aluminum signs back for reuse if their grading level changes.
- Unacceptable – There is some waste that simply can’t be eliminated, despite our best efforts in how we purchase, rethink, redesign, reduce, reuse, compost, recycle and recover. These items do end up in our landfill, and we will continue to seek ways to eliminate these altogether.
Based on our own waste audits, GreenStep has achieved what the Zero Waste International Waste Alliance defines as “Zero Waste” which means 90% diversion of waste from the landfill. It is a goal that all businesses and organizations should strive for, and for which GreenStep can provide support. We also recently launched the GreenStep Single Use Plastic Free Assessment and optional certification, in partnership with the Fairmont Pacific Rim.
To get started on setting up a waste management system, the Regional District of Central Okanagan has put together a list of tips and tricks to help businesses manage and divert their waste. Some of the guidance may be region-specific, but most of it is best practice that any organization can use to get started. The ultimate objective is to avoid sending more waste to landfills. Landfills are a leading source of methane, a potent and powerful greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Landfill expansion also creates negative land-use impacts, with some landfills having buried so much waste that they have sufficient elevation to be turned into a ski hill!
Here are some no and low-cost, small steps to get you started on your journey in your own offices or internal operations:
Reuse, reuse, reuse! Where possible, look to procure items that can be reused or refilled. Whether it’s the dishwashing liquid under the sink or the printer supplies, you can use containers and consumables that can be refilled and reused to reduce packaging waste. Single-use items should be avoided where possible, and encouraging your suppliers to be innovative with their product return approach to encourage circular economy outcomes. Great examples for moving to reusable are using a reusable pod for your pod coffee machine, and encouraging your team to BYO coffee mugs for their to-go beverages.
Consider Donating Before Decomposing. The best way to divert food waste generated by your business is not to compost it, but to first donate it to people in need. There are ways for businesses to legally donate food within the guidelines of regulations. Lucky for Canadian businesses, the National Zero Waste Council is working on a new initiative to help connect stakeholders across Canada and integrate circular food hubs to help close the food loss waste gap.
Choose from Compost Options Galore. The second best option for your business-generated waste is to compost food waste and other organics. If keeping worms is not for you, there are a range of other options across Canada for ensuring organic waste goes to a place where regenerative soils are made for reuse, and landfills are kept small.
Education is the Key to Success. Want to involve your staff and work on all of these initiatives to excite your guests and improve your operations, perhaps while reducing operating costs? Jump online and take advantage of some of the great resources offered by TRUE Zero Waste. Your business might choose to delegate one staff member to this realm and suggest a certification or utilize community connections available to your business – perhaps right in your own neighbourhood!
If you want to get started on your own waste reduction, zero waste, climate action, or sustainability journey, but don’t know where to start, feel free to reach out to our team for a free consult.