Every year, the world generates a staggering 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste. According to the World Bank, this figure is set to rise to an eye-watering 3.4 billion tons by 2050, with high-income countries producing way more than their fair share of waste. In fact, though they account for just 16% of the world’s population, developed economies produce a whopping 34% of global waste, something that’s only set to worsen in the coming years.
However, now that the climate crisis is headline news, there can be little argument that reducing our waste generation is not only sensible in the short term, but critical in the long term if we quite literally want to avoid drowning in our own trash. But how can we go about this, and what measures can be put in place to help us develop more sustainable lifestyles?
Zero waste to landfill is a concept that has gained significant attention in recent years, and provides an answer to these questions both at home and within businesses. Put simply, this means adopting sustainable practices on a day-to-day basis, such as reducing the amount of waste we produce, improving recycling systems, and reusing whatever we can. So, whether you’re an individual concerned about waste generation or a business looking to develop a more circular approach to operations, here we explore what zero-waste to landfill is and how you can implement it. Read on to learn more.
What Does Zero Waste to Landfill Mean?
If your business has started looking seriously at its sustainability, you may well have come across the phrase ‘zero waste to landfill’. Commonly used when discussing ethical waste management, the phrase refers to a policy of diverting as much waste as possible away from landfill sites through sustainable practices such as reducing waste generation, reusing materials, and recycling.
For many businesses, a zero waste to landfill approach is more realistic, at least in the short term, than a true zero-waste policy. This is because the definition of zero waste centers on generating no waste whatsoever, while the definition of zero-waste to landfill is to divert at least 90% of waste generated away from landfill.
This goal can be achieved through a variety of waste reduction and waste diversion policies. At the core of all these policies are the five main principles of the zero-waste hierarchy: prevent, reuse, recycle, recover, dispose.
By far the best way of stopping waste ending up in landfill is to avoid generating it in the first place. However, prevention will mean different things for different businesses. For some, it might mean removing unnecessary plastic packaging from products or removing single-use plastics from the premises. For others, it could involve providing water refill stations or other resources that allow staff and customers to avoid generating excess trash.
Prevention can also be achieved through the redesign of products and packaging. Taking out unrecyclable plastics and replacing them with compostable materials can make a significant, positive environmental impact.
If waste can’t be prevented, the second-best option is to reuse it. Reusing products is preferable to recycling them because it doesn’t require any additional energy or produce extra greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a plastic bag can be used many times over before it’s disposed of at no extra cost to the environment.
Other examples of reusable materials include glass jars (they can be turned into food containers, glasses or vases), clothes (good quality clothes can be reused again and again or cut up and used as cleaning materials) and plastic boxes, which can easily be used for storage. Reusing as many items as possible can help to create a circular economy and keep waste generation to a minimum.
If something can’t be reused in its current form, it can often be recycled. Common recyclable materials include paper, cardboard, glass, some metals and some types of plastic. Composting food waste is also a good way of reducing the amount of trash your business generates. Though it takes a lot of energy to transport and process these materials, recycling waste is still preferable to sending it to landfill.
If your waste can’t be prevented, reused or recycled, you may be able to divert it away from landfill by recovering the energy contained in the materials. Waste-to-energy processes include incineration and anaerobic digestion. Although energy recovery processes consume the materials used, the energy they produce is valuable and can be used to help power homes and businesses across the country. By-products like methane gas can also be harvested during the recovery process.
Disposal is the worst option when it comes to zero-waste goals. Essentially, waste disposal means sending waste materials to landfill and ending the life cycle of the materials. Landfill waste has no benefits whatsoever. No new products are created, no energy is produced, and landfill contributes significantly to pollution and contamination, both of which are harmful to the environment and human health.
What Are the Benefits of Zero Waste to Landfill?
Zero waste to landfill offers a number of key benefits over a traditional waste management approach. The most important of these benefits is environmental, since zero waste thinking is far more sustainable than sending trash to landfill, adopting a zero waste to landfill policy can help your business to achieve its sustainability goals.
Embracing green initiatives is good for your company image. According to a recent survey, over two-thirds (68%) of people said they rated sustainability as an important factor when making a purchase.
Investing in zero waste programs is also great for your staff and your community. Not only can it help to reduce pollution in your local area, it can also help to inspire and encourage businesses, customers and employees to adopt zero landfill goals of their own.
How Can Zero Waste to Landfill Be Achieved?
Though zero waste to landfill is an ambitious goal, achieving it is relatively straightforward. The most important first step is to talk to staff and make sure they’re fully on board. Having their help and understanding will make it a lot easier to implement your green policies.
It’s also a good idea to communicate with the businesses in your supply chain. There may be steps that they can take to reduce the amount of packaging used or to source your stock from more environmentally friendly suppliers.
Try to be realistic when starting out on your zero-waste to landfill policy. You probably won’t achieve a 100% diversion rate straight away, so start slowly and build up your zero waste to landfill initiatives in a sustainable and realistic way. A 90% diversion rate is the generally accepted metric for zero waste to landfill.
The Zero Waste International Alliance is a fantastic resource for businesses and individuals looking to divert their waste stream away from landfill. The alliance offers training, certification and networking as well as a wealth of information on the zero-waste philosophy.
Zero Waste Has a Solution for Zero Waste to Landfill
Buying zero-waste products is a practical and effective way of reducing the amount of waste that your company produces. You’ll find a wide choice of zero-waste items online, with cleaning, beauty and personal hygiene products some of the easiest to swap out.
Whether you’re an individual trying to do their bit to reduce waste and build a circular economy, or you’re a business looking to reduce its environmental impact, zero-waste has the ideas, inspiration and resources you need to achieve your goals.