The March Towards Zero Waste

With spring around the corner, it’s the when many begin clearing out the clutter which has so easily accumulated through the year. Sometimes it can be challenging to find a home or new use for unwanted items through charities, yard sales, recycling, auction sites, and other means. Many businesses and industries are engaged in an ongoing similar strategic game on a much larger scale. Today, many are working to reduce waste and some have set goals to become designated as zero waste to improve the company’s bottom line, while conserving valuable resources including water, energy, and land.

What exactly does zero waste mean? Many corporations have their own definitions for zero waste which can make things confusing. The U.S. Zero Waste Business council (USZWBC) founded in 2012, observed the issues with not having a certification program for zero waste. “It was like apples and pineapples,” says USZWBC founder Stephanie Barger, Director of Market Development at the Green Business Certification Incorporated (GBCI). “It was all over the place. There really weren’t standards and guidelines on what zero waste meant. That was one of the reasons businesses came to us.” The definition of zero waste for third party certification requires that no waste go to a landfill or incineration facility.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is employing change in helping others protect the environment with a systematic approach that builds on the basics of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to evaluate the entire life cycle of products. This process, called Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) seeks to use materials in the most productive way with an emphasis on using fewer materials and products while reducing toxic chemicals and environmental impacts throughout the material’s life cycle.

In Tennessee, some of the top industrial performers in waste reduction are members of the Tennessee Green Star Partnership (TGSP). The Tennessee Green Star Partnership is a voluntary environmental leadership program designed to recognize industries in the state which are committed to sustainable practices. Through a survey about zero waste, the Office of Sustainable Practices received input from the TGSP partners on what zero waste means to them and their company’s achievements as well as progress toward achieving the goal. They confirmed that the definitions for zero waste are not uniform and many showed interest in learning more about waste solutions. From those responding, approximately half are either zero waste or have greater than 90% diversion. All respondents have waste reduction goals and most have specifically identified zero waste as a priority.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation through the Division of Solid Waste Management and the Office of Sustainable Practices is working to provide a new tool which could be instrumental in helping reduce waste and even assist with the zero waste goals. The Tennessee Materials Marketplace is currently in development and will provide a cloud based program offering a match type service for those needing products and those with products on hand. We will provide more information on this program as it becomes available. We are excited to be a part of the “march” to zero waste.

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