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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Green Operations > Operations Strategy & Management

Zero Waste or Darn Close!

Gary Liss & Associates provides outreach and consulting for Zero Waste business and community strategies.

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Zero Waste Solutions Executive Summary

  • Zero Waste is possible.
  • There are 9 hiding places for waste
  • There are 12 (+1) types of waste that can be reused
  • Waste can become a profit center

Puente Hills, CA Landfill
This is an article for engineers and planners who say "Zero Waste is impossible." Zero Waste is good for business, says Gary Liss, a waste solutions consultant -- and that fact alone makes it a worthy goal. What is now becoming apparent, however, is that Zero Waste is also feasible.

Case Study:
Palo Alto Business/Public/Resident Cooperation

Community policies can encourage business to adopt and implement zero waste goals. Palo Alto, CA is an example of how policies can be stair-stepped to success toward zero waste. Their zero waste management strategy includes:
  1. Education
  2. Incentives
  3. Bans and Mandates
  4. City Services
A zero waste task force included both business representatives and residents. They talked about their values and what they wanted to see on the way to zero waste. No experts or service providers were on the official zero waste task force -- they could attend and observe, but they had a chance to hear what community members wanted. This dynamic was the seed for zero waste policies such as take-backs, and zero waste policies that sent a shudder through the business community, but the city agreed to include these priorities in the strategic plan.


Zero Waste is good for business -- and that fact alone makes it a worthy goal.


Business had the opportunity to embrace the community's waste reduction goals and collaborate to achieve Zero Waste. Choosing zero waste policies everyone can live with helps accomplish goals in the least onerous ways possible. The Palo Alto community chose to consider local business their friends and the waste management system as the broken element. By encouraging national and state waste reduction legislation for manufacturers to take back products and packaging ("Extended Producer Responsibility" EPR) they are working to change the system. In the interim, they will promote waste take-back locations on their websites about who takes back products (including laptops, batteries and thermometers).

Communities Can Be a Sustainable World with Zero Waste

"In nature everything is a resource or home for something else. Zero waste is possible! Some companies are already successfully diverting over 90% of their waste. We're 'zero waste or darn close!'" says Gary Liss, community strategist who helps communities like Palo Alto develop practical zero waste programs.

"Zero Waste is the only place in the sustainability movement where we've drawn the line at 90%. Other strategies have other standards. But 90% stimulates performance! And we're achieving those goals."

Communities are the cornerstone of policies and infrastructures that can support waste management success. Communities are looking at bulging landfills and air and water pollution that can result from incineration programs … and are looking to businesses to adopt and implement zero waste goals. Liss has worked with communities who have struggled with the balance between compliance and voluntary action. The strategy of communities is to encourage business…and protect the community.

Zero Waste is good for business -- and that fact alone makes it a worthy goal. What is now becoming apparent, however, is that Zero Waste is also possible.

Did your mother ever tell you to eat everything on your plate? That starving children would be thankful for your scraps? That wisdom wasn't as quaint as some of us thought! Waste is a big problem for businesses around the world. Wasted raw materials. Waste during production. Waste from transport damage. Wasted energy from hauling waste materials. Waste from packaging. Waste that you have to pay to have hauled away! And waste that you are now being requested to take back from your consumers! What will they think of next!


The wealthiest woman in the world made her fortune with waste.


NEXT is here! "Next" is a zero wase business strategy that stops the waste in the first place. And that's what Zero Waste advocates are putting together with community infrastructure, business strategies and consumer cooperation.

The wealthiest woman in the world made her fortune with waste. Buy waste paper here, ship it to China, and ship it back to the US as packaging for Chinese products. She sees waste paper as "forests" that don't have to be cut down.

Japan is ahead of us with Zero Waste achievements... but California is putting a structure into place one recycled pallet at a time. California communities have been reducing landfill and incineration problems since 1989 when AB 939 was passed to reduce our statewide waste stream by 50%. Tremendous progress has been made but there are still 40 million tons being landfilled in California. There's still a huge need to reduce that waste ... and a large portion of the waste is coming from business.

Some businesses have discovered that waste reduction goes straight to the bottom line! Saving on waste saves money. Through reduction, reuse, and recyling, companies such as New United Motor Manufacturing in Fremont, CA has saved $20 million per year with reusable, collapsible shipping containers made of recyclable plastic! This 5,000 person joint venture between Toyota and GM saves air space -- which is a huge commodity in shipping costs. Reusable containers are reverse shipped to suppliers of their 1500 auto parts. This is just one example of substantial savings coming from a Zero Waste approach. And they've been saving like this since 2002.


Zero Waste is possible. And it's profitable.


Need a smaller success story? Mad River Brewery in Blue Lake, CA diverts 98% of their garbage from landfills. They've been saving $35,000 per year by implementing their Zero Waste program. It's a small company with 15,000 sq. ft. facility and 34 employees.

Zero Waste is possible. It's profitability has been proven by both large and small businesses. And there's help to get you started.

The Earth Resource Foundation coordinates Zero Waste conferences to introduce businesspeople to the techniques and the experts who can make it fast and painless to put a waste reduction program into operation. EarthResource.org
The California Resource Recovery Association works toward zero waste by expanding markets for recycled materials, promoting sustainable materials policies and serving as a clearinghouse for information, innovation, and industry and governmental initiatives for waste reduction. crra.com/grc

"Navigating to Zero Waste"
2007 Conference & Tradeshow
July 29 - August 1, 2007


The GrassRoots Recycling Network's vision is a world where waste is not waste -- it is a resource. They share the message that we must go "beyond recycling" and go upstream to the headwaters of the waste stream which is the industrial designer's desk and build coalitions to achieve zero waste policies, businesses and communities. GRRN.org

Organic Waste Turning Into CompostCompost plus Recycling Programs

San Francisco is an example of how easy it is for a city to support communitywide waste reduction. By collecting food discards from businesses and having a compost and recycling program in place, they make it east for EVERY restaurant and food business in the community to reach zero waste. In fact, many restaurants have reached 90% diversion from landfills and incinerations! Hats off! Some of the leading restaurants who wholeheartedly supported this program include Scoma's Restaurant, Greens Restuarant, and Frankie's Bohemian Cafe.

What is Zero Waste?

"Zero waste to landfills and incineration... that's the Zero Waste International Alliance (www.ZWIA.org) standard," says Gary Liss, consultant and community strategist for Zero Waste programs. Liss explains that Japan has 2800 businesses who have set a goal of Zero Waste.

"99% of these companies have achieved zero waste to landfills. 34% have achieved zero waste to incineration. Some are working on zero consumption of virgin resources … a closed system for materials supply."


99% of these companies have achieved zero waste to landfills.


Many Japanese companies that have American facilities are bringing their Zero Waste policies to California. Ricoh Electronics is one example. This $17 billion company based in Tokyo has 1500 employees in California-based Ricoh Electronics, Inc. They manufacture copiers, scanners, cameras and other electronic devices. They achieved zero waste to landfills in 2001. They have disposed nothing in California landfills since 2000.

"Ricoh still takes about 10 to 15% of their waste stream to an incinerator, but they are working to wean themselves off the incinerator and address the materials through other policies and programs," explains Liss.

Japan's approach has been top-down. The Ministry of the Environment said, "We want you to do this..." Japan's Zero Waste goal allows incineration. The ZWIA approach is different. It is being spearheaded by businesses and local communities. And ZWIA definitions include both zero waste to landfill and incineration. "Not burning or buying waste" is the standard Liss and his fellow Zero Waste professionals are achieving, one company at a time.

ZWIA has also developed a set of conservation business principles to achieve Zero Waste.

And the Grassroots Recycling Network (http://grrn.org) is the U.S. leader in developing peer-reviewed principles of Zero Waste.

Where Do You Find Zero Waste Solutions?

Linda Christopher with the GRRN is forging a partnership between Earth Resources Foundation and GRRN to promote zero waste initiatives in California. Michael Huls, Rick Anthony and Gary Liss are advisors to the two nonprofits that are tackling the zero waste challenge from different directions.

Rick and Michael do outreach to businesses with Earth Resource and follow-up to help them identify and strategize their unique options. Stephanie and Linda are developing conferences to provide necessary information and networking. And Gary is documenting successful Zero Waste businesses to serve as case studies of companies who divert over 90% of their waste.

Other sustainable planning initiatives are being driven by the need for companies to meet the international standards of ISO 14001 that European buyers favor. Many American companies aren't yet up to speed with meeting these product and process standards. Zero Waste programs can help companies get there.


Other sustainable planning initiatives are being driven by the need for companies to meet the international standards of ISO 14001 that European buyers favor.


Xerox Early Adopter of Waste-Free Factories

Xerox was one of the earliest adopters of waste-free factories. "Xerox leased much of their equipment so it came back to them. It could be considered an asset or a liability -- and they decided to make it an asset. They refurbished the equipment and sent it back for a second leasing. They scavenged parts to refurbish other equipment..and they recycled the rest. They turned around their whole system. Then they looked at their operations and became more careful about how they designed and manufactured their products," Liss noted.

Zero waste is a process -- and not all industries have totally adapted. Some are struggling. The Carpet industry is one such industry that is trying -- and struggling. Interface was an early leader in the sustainability movement.

Ecology of Commerce - Paul Hawken

"Ray Anderson cites Paul Hawken's Ecology of Commerce as his awakening and motivator. Collins & Aikman collaborated with the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance to explore how an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach could be achieved. Together they identified impediments and what needed to be done on an industry-wide basis. The industry didn't come up with a national solution, but individual companies have embraced the goals and implemented what they could individually," reports Liss. "Carpeting is a major problem overall, and in California, we're just beginning to see some recovery of carpeting. The Los Angeles area has a strong budding infrastructure..."



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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