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Home > Feature Articles > Recycling Business Strategies for Natural Resource Conservation and Reuse

How Do You Get Started with a Zero Waste Initiative?

Recycling waste materials opens up opportunities for better management of property, reusable content, and employee benefits.

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"Entrance varies by company," Gary Liss, a zero waste consultant explains. "Aveda cosmetics does it one way. Toyota does it another." A best-practices approach starts with identifying what a company is discarding. "KNOW YOUR DISCARDS" is the first step. Ferret out where they are being generated.


1. Know your discards: What do you buy?

Start thinking about where secret waste is hiding. When you compare your purchase orders with your waste reports, you will be able to determine what percentage of your business is being flushed down the proverbial toilet!

2. Design it out: What do you get rid of?

Design is a powerful tool in a zero waste strategy. By eliminating waste coming in, monitoring your supply chain management, taking back products and minimizing packaging -- you not only eliminate waste but will probably identify some service opportunities. Recycling programs that help you and your customers reuse products, compost it, recycle it -- service voids that provide business opportunities.

3. Cut subsidies for waste: What can you eliminate?

The way you structure your waste contracts can make or cost you money… and your suppliers! The EPA has a website ( for resource management that helps you restructure contracts to include targets for diversion from landfills and incineration that pays for the end result. You can share the savings and profit benefits with your service providers! That's incentive! You eliminate the subsidies for wasting in your own company, as well as your service providers.

4. Plan and build a Zero Waste infrastructure: Work with your communities.

Internal infrastructures are complemented by industry- or community-wide systems. By working with your service provider or local community, you can identify types of services that could fill your gaps in waste management. By setting up internal systems -- such as a paper recycling system of bins and collection, you can control some of the waste stream. Timing is always part of an infrastructure change. Time is needed to reuse materials. Workflow can be restructured. The downtime while waiting for permits can provide time for deconstruction and dismantling of C&D materials earlier in the process.

5. Plan for value: Retain form and function provides maximum value.

Reuse businesses are the highest rung of value for waste management. Re-Stores by groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Urban Ore provide the highest value. Materials that retain their form and function lengthen the direct life of materials and products. Food scraps can be reused for people, animals, composting and fuels. Construction and debris waste is more valuable when left whole, but composite materials and some toxic products, as well as light weight products such as Styrofoam offer particular challenges.

Many Toxics can be reused or recycled!

Not all toxics are lost causes. After all, we buy them in pristine toxic condition off the shelf! Some companies help recycle toxic substances by combining different types of chemicals to produce new life: non-toxic, neutral or productive chemicals.
  • Oil and antifreeze are both recyclable toxic materials.
  • Paints and oil are 50% of household hazardous wastes -- and are totally recyclable!
  • Pesticides, cleaners, paints, can be "swapped" to allow others to use them for their original purpose.

"Swap Shelves" at household hazardous waste events are popular solutions for this highest rung of the waste management ladder. Swapping materials holds the highest priority in the hierarchy of options by retaining the form and function of the product.

Michael Huls has identified ways to view discarded materials that are generated. And Urban Ore has identified how to view discarded materials as ripe for Zero Waste alternatives.

Organize your hunt for discards that have profit potential for your business.

Organize your hunt for discards that have profit potential for your business. Michael Huls' 9 areas in which business waste are hidden can be crossed with Urban Ore's 12 master categories of materials. The result of this profit-hunt can be quite a boost to a company's bottom line!

Michael Huls' nine areas of business waste hideaways.

Most businesses will harbor a unique mix of these hiding places!
  1. Warehousing and distribution
  2. Offices
  3. Food services
  4. Grounds
  5. Construction
  6. Manufacturing
  7. Vehicle maintenance
  8. Retail
  9. Housing and hospitals

You can turn your hunt for hiding places of these urban treasures into a company wide adventure. It's better than a company picnic...and the rewards create a cleaner workplace, less waste which could translate into more resources for employee compensation or resources!

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