Embrace Your Waste

Being a relatively new entrant to the exciting and complex world of waste reduction one learning that has surprised me perhaps more than anything else is that many organizations and communities know relatively little about their waste stream.  Perhaps this is a function of waste being, well, waste, so it doesn't get a lot of love or perhaps it is a function of the fact that unlike things like energy or water there is no handy dandy meter to inform us.  Regardless of the reasons it is evident to this waste newcomer that a lot more businesses and communities need to make the effort to step up and embrace the waste.

Why you may ask do I believe this is so critical?  Good question!  Beginning with the basics of management - there is the premise that if you can't measure it you can't manage it.  Over the course of the past few months I have encountered a variety of organizations big and small that are actively pursuing waste reduction and even working toward goals of zero waste.  Amazingly enough in almost every instance these organizations have not performed a detailed waste audit that allows them to understand the true volume, make-up, source, destination and impacts of their waste stream.  Admittedly this is, at least to me, somewhat of a baffling practice that I would equate to beginning a diet without knowing your current weight, what you eat or what would be a healthy end weight.

Another reason to get to know your waste is so you can understand and effectively prioritize your options for reduction.  Many organizations begin down the path of waste reduction assuming that the only thing that stands between them and success is employee or community engagement.  Often enough, this assumption may prove somewhat true and behavior change can go a long a way to reduce waste.  The questions remain however, how far will your existing infrastructure get you and is the course you are on a meaningful and cost-effective way of changing your relationship with your waste?  While you are pursuing incremental improvements via behavior perhaps you could be eliminating toxic materials, replacing materials with better, less expensive alternatives or actually generating revenue from your waste or excess materials.

A third reason to embrace the waste is that it allows communities and businesses alike to make more aggressive, impactful decisions that protect people and the environment.  The fact is that not all waste is created equal.  Toxic materials, plastics and organic materials are all examples of waste that reap a uniquely harmful toll.  At Zero Waste Alliance we are firm believers in what we call ERRR.  This is the same Reduce, Ruse, Recycle that we all know and love but with the firm addition of Eliminate.  There is no excuse for the volume of toxics that enter homes, schools or the environment.  Nor is there an excuse for the massive volume of plastics choking our oceans.  Getting to know your waste stream allows your organization to more definitively address these pressing issues by Eliminating these types of materials by making their elimination one of your highest priorities.  

So the case is clear (I think at least) that more businesses and communities must take the step to get to know their waste stream.  So as far as making it happen, it does not have to be expensive or time consuming.  There are a wide variety of assessment templates and case studies to be found on the Internet to support your work.  If you are not ready to dumpster dive yourself, reach out to your local college or university and discuss starting a waste assessment service.  If that is not an option, then look to your local nonprofit or consulting community.  Regardless of how you do it, commit yourself to take the dive and Embrace the Waste.