The Challenge of zero waste

Updated: Apr 10

According to Wikipedia, Zero waste is a process and a philosophy that involves the redesign of the products, products we produce, and the rethinking of our consumption of said products, in such a way that all material goods involved can be reused or recycled — or excluded.

Fewer and fewer countries are willing to welcome the waste of others, hence the price of waste disposal is rising, and the philosophy of zero waste is becoming more and more pertinent

Isn’t this the true meaning of circular economy?

Here is a very brief list of little things everyone can do:

  • Avoiding products wrapped in plastic,

  • Buying foods like flour, sugar, nuts, or cereals in bulk in stores that let you use your own containers,

  • Buying second hand clothes and furniture,

  • Even bringing your own towel when you eat out, just in case the restaurant uses paper tissues…

There are a myriad of things to do, and most of us could easily do at least a few of them with a modest degree of discipline and willingness to change our own behaviour.

Admittedly, some of things we could do such as making our own toothpaste or cosmetics would require a little more commitment and rigour.

In reality, “Zero waste” is most often not zero — it is just less.

Even in an ideal world populated exclusively by hardcore environmentalists this would still be true, simply because object degrade with use. Even the “Zero waste international Alliance association” admits that the reduction of waste is 90% not 100%!*

Adopting a zero-waste style is not easy, but it is possible — it is a question of habits.

Waste means not just “household” waste, it means less waste in general. All those plastic bottles, paper wrappings, cans, that pile up in our kitchens at the end of a day are not the only waste! What about waste metals, carbon, textiles, chemicals, etc., i.e. industrial waste?

Is it possible to implement a Zero-Waste strategy in a company?

Every company has some sustainability targets and tries to be more conscious about the protection of the environment. But how will a company implement a Zero waste culture and be still competitive? Is it even possible?

That, of course, depends on the specific nature of the company in question, in particular on the degree of foreign competitors based in countries which are perhaps less given to environmental concerns, and, consequently, the willingness of our governments to impose taxes against imports from such countries.

However, any company who decides to tackle this issue should start with “quick wins”, as these always involve reducing waste.

If you:

  • Give a coffee mug to all your employees, in order to avoid plastic or paper cups, this is reducing waste.

  • The same goes for proper tea spoons instead of those ridiculous plastic swivel sticks which, at least in the eyes of this writer, constitute the nothing less than the downfall of western civilisation.

  • Negotiating with your suppliers to resize your containers, this is reducing waste.

  • Being sure that none of your fleet ever travels half empty, this is also reducing waste.

  • Developing a work-from-home policy definitely reduces waste.

At this stage, not only have you made the first steps to the right direction, you probably also have started to see other opportunities; you even began to reap some harvest.

The core-concepts of the zero waste culture are:

  • Refuse (packaging, unnecessary travels, etc.)

  • Reduce

  • Reuse

  • Recycle

In a nutshell: In order to achieve zero waste you should look at it in terms of process excellence.

And how do you achieve process excellence? By beginning with your costumer (internal or external).

The costumer wants a service or a product, according to the their specifications and delivered in time. So every step in the creation of your product or services counts.

At every step, every bit of waste avoided/reused/recycled allows you to be more flexible, faster, smoother, safer, and it will safe you some money as well.

So take the time to trace where and when the waste is generated in your processes and where it’s going.

And even if you have never had a perfect process, you might be the first to devise and implement a real Zero-Waste process, and isn’t that a true value proposition?

Surely that would be something to boast about and mightily impressed your customers and clients! Which will only strengthen your position in return!

I’d like to finish with a quote by the late professor in chemistry, Kenneth Richard Seddon, who died way too early: “If you do what you always did you will get what you always got!”

* [last accessed March 11th, 2020]