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Things to Consider Before Going Zero Waste

Keslio Team
 minute read  
April 2, 2024
Multiple sketches of sustainable product mockups.

We are living in an age where the repercussions of our actions and consumption are starting to catch up to us, filling landfills, taking over seas, endangering wildlife, and even finding its way into our bodies. These goods that have been so heavily embedded into one’s lifestyle can be challenging to eliminate even amidst biodegradable or sustainable alternatives. 

The path to zero waste cannot be taken solely by an individual. With more consumers concerned about sustainability and thus, shifting to more conscious and sustainable purchases, businesses must take the next step and transition to a zero waste economy, leading a global sustainable movement anchored on zero waste.

Being a zero waste business means that 90% of discarded products produced by a company are diverted from landfills through waste management initiatives ranging from reduction to recovery, from reusing to recycling. By going zero waste, a business is able to decrease their environmental footprint and the risk of negatively impacting nature and society. Zero waste initiatives also allows a company to innovate for sustainability, which can boost finances and brand reputation, attracting both consumers and investors.

Going zero waste requires bold changes and restructuring throughout different areas of a company’s operation and value chain. Before making the change, there are many things to consider to ensure an effective zero waste strategy.

Becoming Zero Waste

Creating goals towards a zero waste economy can be good for companies or industries that produce large amounts of waste. When becoming zero waste, a business will face numerous challenges internally and externally. There is a great shift in mindset and practice. For a successful implementation, it is good to be prepared in advance by taking note of the opportunities, risks, and spaces for improvement.

Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

The three Rs are known across the world as actions we can do to manage our waste. But which one of these is the most effective for a zero waste strategy?

We might think recycling is the best approach and the way to go. We have facilities dedicated to recycling and products made out of recycled materials. Recycling, however, isn’t the only approach towards zero waste, nor is it the most effective way to become zero waste. It finds itself as the last stage, the last priority in a zero waste strategy. 

Not all materials can be recycled and not all can be recycled multiple times. Not all waste ends up in recycling facilities due to mismanagement and contamination. A lot of energy and processing is also required to effectively bring back the material into the value chain. So recycling doesn’t really signify that a company is zero waste. A company can continue to generate the same amount of waste each year yet still be guaranteed a safety net and sense of sustainability with its recycling initiatives, but this still has its flaws. Recycling occurs only after waste management, thus there are more opportunities for improvement between the product’s development to its end of use.

The issue of waste needs to be addressed at the source. There are better alternatives to a recyclable plastic bottle. Becoming a zero waste company means coming up with new approaches towards waste reduction and design thinking. Zero waste also means reducing consumption and utilization of virgin raw materials. Zero waste also finds itself in the longevity and reusability of a product. 

In the zero waste hierarchy, recycling finds itself at the bottom as a low priority whereas reducing waste and reusing products find themselves near the top along with rethinking design. 

Rethinking Design

Let’s start from the beginning. A product’s life can be traced back to the materials from which it came from and to the concepts, sketches, mockups, and designs that brought an idea to life. But there are smarter and more sustainable ways to design and redesign. The journey to zero waste doesn’t have to focus on waste recovery and management alone. It can begin at the conceptual phase, at the overall design itself.

Think of the goods you offer, what it is made of, and how it is made. What sustainable alternatives to its raw materials are currently available and suitable for the product’s purpose? What do we use to package these goods? How can we redesign the product itself to minimize unnecessary waste? How can we make our product last longer? How can we ensure that at the end of its life, this will not end up in a landfill but can be recovered, reused, or recycled instead?

Rethinking design means addressing the issue at the source and the systems built around it, considering new ways to turn your product into something more sustainable, from its design to its packaging. This can mean switching from plastics or virgin natural resources to biodegradable or recovered and recycled materials. A company can also redesign their products to make it more durable and long-lasting or open themselves up to initiatives focused on repair and replacement. Through this approach, a business also adopts a circular economy, closing the loop by starting where waste should end.

Knowing Your Resources

Without resources, a product remains an idea. Bringing this idea to life requires sourcing for the right materials at the right amount. Zero waste also means minimizing the quantity of raw materials procured to manufacture the product. It’s important to consider your raw materials when making critical decisions before heading down the path to zero waste. Innovation comes to life when making changes to a product’s composition. It is good to consider new alternatives rising in the materials design industry. 

Before going zero waste, consider new options in building your product. Consider other sources and suppliers that can further strengthen your sustainability performance. Making the switch from virgin raw materials to recycled or biodegradable materials can divert your waste further away from landfills and seas.

Improving Infrastructure

A good understanding of your company’s waste streams can help you find critical areas that require the most attention. It’s important to consider current facilities and infrastructure that produce and manage waste. How much waste are you producing and how much of it are you able to control? 

By knowing your current capacities and waste generation metrics and data, you can develop structural changes that can streamline production lines and systems for it to become more efficient and effective in waste reduction. By considering how waste management systems work in certain regions and areas, a company can craft tailor-fit plans to work with these systems or develop ways to divert or recover their waste. Understanding the metrics and data can also establish short and long term targets and how to measure these as you progress in your zero waste journey.

Engaging Your Stakeholders

Being zero waste also entails the participation of many stakeholders. Business leaders and sustainability experts should embed the initiative into the company’s goals. Teams should consider sustainability and waste reduction in their operations. A company should also build and upskill teams with the knowledge and resources on waste management. 

Strengthening efforts across the value chain can bring companies closer to their targets, but a business can also think about the waste they produce in day-to-day corporate functions and operations. Being zero waste doesn’t just encompass the waste yielding from products across their life cycle. A business can go all the way by shifting to more sustainable alternatives for office supplies and items used on the daily.

Beyond the internal workings of a business, external stakeholders also have a role to play in a company’s journey towards zero waste. A business should inform key stakeholders such as manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors on their plans to adopt zero waste strategies. This can lead to reducing waste during production, working with new suppliers or seeking more sustainable practices from current suppliers, and finding new sustainable ways to package and ship products.

A  company also needs to understand how waste management works in certain communities and locations. There is a geographical element when it comes to zero waste as countries or local communities have different ways to manage waste. Before creating a zero waste strategy, a business should look into these operations and find ways to collaborate with these systems, which can lead to positive social impacts on local communities, especially if informal sectors have involvement in waste collection and management.

Lastly, a zero waste strategy will not entirely be effective without the active participation of the consumer. How does a consumer behave and how can we influence their habits to more mindful and sustainable consumption? How can we get them to participate in our value chain and waste management initiatives? A company needs to develop ways or campaigns that communicate their sustainability initiatives. By the collective action of consumers, a business is able to close the loop and redirect materials back into their system.

A World Without Waste

Not all things have to go to waste. A company also doesn’t have to eliminate 100% of its waste and all these initiatives don’t just happen overnight. When plotting a zero waste strategy, it is important to make strong plans backed by data, focusing on areas where the company can make the most impact and change given the current resources they have while conducting research and preparing to make bolder moves such as redesigning products or reducing waste from the very start of the value chain. 

To add to these strategies, being zero waste also requires a change in work culture and practice, from the supplier down to the consumer. As a company, influencing stakeholders can propel the business towards its sustainability targets while building sustainable systems not just in a work setting but also in the day-to-day life of an individual. Before becoming zero waste, understand that the journey requires long hours of research, transformation, and implementation, yet its benefits yield great results for both people and the planet.

At Keslio, we are deeply passionate about sustainability, equipping us with the expertise and extensive network needed to guide clients through their sustainability journey effectively and efficiently. Our expertise is particularly valuable for companies looking to embed sustainability practices into their businesses and investors looking to integrate ESG and impact into investment portfolios. To learn more about how Keslio can assist your organization on its sustainability journey, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

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