Zero waste goals are becoming more important across the country to effectively eradicate or repurpose waste from going to landfill, reduce negative environmental impact and allow companies, city and state governments to realize economic and financial benefits.
Zero doesn’t necessarily mean zero though. Many of the cities that have set a zero waste goal have used guidance from the Zero Waste International Alliance, an organization which recognizes communities that “are working towards or have reduced their waste to landfill, incineration and the environment by 90% or more.”
In fact, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) estimates that if the national waste diversion rate was increased to 75 percent in comparison to the current rate of 35 percent, the U.S. economy would add nearly 1.5 million jobs. They also note that we have the ability to “cost-effectively reuse, recycle, or compost 90 percent of municipal solid waste, construction and demolition debris generated in the U.S. annually”. Unfortunately, this potential remains untapped.
While there is still a long way to go for the country to optimize waste diversion, local governments, organizations and companies have the opportunity to collaborate and prioritize reuse of materials and circularity into their zero waste initiatives.
The Circular Economy
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “going beyond the current linear take-make-waste extractive model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. Strengthened by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital”. It is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
Reduce, Reuse and Redesign
One of the most effective and simple steps toward achieving zero-waste and implementing circularity is reducing overall consumption in the first place. By making small changes, such as investing in innovatively designed products like the Tork® brand of paper towel and napkin dispensing solutions that allow guests to only touch one towel or napkin at a time. This decreases the overall number of paper products needed, reduces pilferage, and facilities are able to reduce their overall consumption going to waste while still increasing hand hygiene.
It’s even better if those hygiene products are made from reusing a facility’s own recycled office paper and cardboard added to other local fiber through a closed loop recycling program. Closed loop recycling is the process where post-consumer office paper waste is collected, recycled and used to make new products. This circular program efficiently uses paper sourced through the company’s recycling partner that’s located in a relatively close proximity to an Essity paper mill that makes the Tork brand of tissue products in North America. Many companies have had success incorporating such circularity practices into their business models. This program supports the local economy while providing a transparent, sustainable story to tell customers and staff about how their products are made with a reduced environmental footprint.
For a circular economy to function properly however, consumers, recyclers and manufacturers must work together at unprecedented levels to reclaim valuable materials from going to landfill. Now is the time to start thinking of ways to make your waste diversion more circular. How can we collaborate to help meet your sustainability goals?
Carrie Schuster is Brand Communications Manager of Sustainability, Hygiene and Services for North America and Europe for Essity, a global leader in hygiene and health, and the makers of the Tork brand of professional hygiene products. She consults and partners with customers to develop programs with the goal of achieving sustainability through zero waste, closed loop recycling, composting initiatives and hygiene training. Carrie.Schuster@essity.com