ESG resource

June 30, 2021


Back to Basics: Landfill Diversion

Learn about landfill diversion, including why it’s important, how it’s measured, and how companies can keep usable materials from the waste stream.

ESG Illustration
Heavy Machinery Moving Waste in a Landfill

At Keter, we talk a lot about landfill diversion. How to track it, why it’s essential, and where Keter can help. But what exactly is involved in landfill diversion, and what role does it play in your company’s sustainability efforts? 

Let’s start at the beginning: Humans generate a lot of solid waste. In years past, we dealt with that problem by sending all our garbage to landfills, where it broke down very slowly. During decomposition, the mixed solid waste in landfills releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, contributing to environmental pollution. It also introduces contamination into the soil and groundwater supply, disrupting the ecosystems of all life on the planet. Fortunately, a zero waste revolution is taking place, and it all starts with diversion, contributing to the fight against climate change.

What Is Landfill Diversion?

Landfill diversion, often measured by a waste diversion rate, is the waste management practice of redirecting materials from landfills to more sustainable channels, such as recycling or composting centers. The goal is to reduce the amount of waste in traditional disposal sites, maximizing disposal or reuse through eco-friendly methods.

Businesses engaged in diversion programs measure the amount of waste in each disposal category to calculate their landfill diversion rate. Once they establish a baseline, they can track their progress by calculating their landfill diversion rate year-over-year. Your diversion rates offer valuable insight into your company’s progress in recycling waste byproducts.

Why Is Landfill Diversion Important?

Traditional landfills contribute to environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Landfill diversion helps combat climate change by reducing these harmful emissions and promoting sustainability. By diverting materials, businesses can help reduce these environmental impacts. Solid waste landfills are the number one source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Landfill methane emissions are 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, making garbage in landfills a significant contributor to global warming.

The less waste breaking down in landfills, the closer we are to reducing record-high temperatures that destroy natural habitats. According to the UN Environmental Program’s Global Methane Assessment Report, reducing methane emissions from landfills will be crucial in achieving the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° C target.

Diversion is also important because it intersects with:

  • Resource Conservation: Recycling and reusing materials reduce the need for virgin resources, such as timber and minerals, leading to the conservation of natural resources.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Many regions have regulations and targets for waste diversion to encourage sustainable practices. Adhering to these regulations can avoid fines and legal issues.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility: Engaging in landfill diversion is often viewed positively by customers, investors, and the community. Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability enhances a company's CSR profile.

Besides its importance, landfill diversion has plenty of benefits! Some pros of landfill diversion include cost efficiency, environmental sustainability, and creating an attractive brand. Big and small organizations are committing to zero waste to landfill targets over the next several years.

What Kind of Materials Can Be Diverted?

The typically diverted materials include items that can be repurposed or reused rather than disposed of in a landfill. 


Recycling plays a crucial role in waste reduction and sustainability. Countless items can be collected, processed, and transformed into new products. Technological advances result in the recycling of more and more materials each year. 

Common recyclable materials include:

  • Paper
  • Glass
  • Cardboard
  • Metals
  • Plastic
  • Textiles 
  • Electronics


Compostables refer to biodegradable materials that can be broken down and replaced in the soil through composting. Composting is the natural process of turning organic material into a soil conditioner full of nutrients to grow new plants. Moisture, aeration, and microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Best of all, separating organic matter from other solid waste produces carbon dioxide—not methane—as it decomposes. 

Organic waste can include: 

  • Food waste, such as grains, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, and other food scraps
  • Yard waste, such as grass clippings, leaves, branches, mulch, and other organic materials from yard or garden maintenance 
  • Compostable packaging, such as plastics and containers made from plant-based materials


Reusables refer to items that have the potential to be used multiple times, either in their original form or after undergoing refurbishment. This approach contrasts with the traditional "use and dispose" model, where items are discarded after a single use. Items that can be reused or repurposed rather than being thrown away include:

  • Packaging can be reused multiple times and recycled once it loses durability.
  • Shipping and loading materials (such as wooden pallets or shipping containers) can be repurposed into furniture or modular housing.
  • Furniture such as desks, chairs, and cabinets can often be refurbished, donated to charities, or sold through resale channels.
  • Appliances and tools may be repaired or donated to extend the life of these goods.

How Can Waste Be Diverted From the Landfill?

How Different Waste Can be Diverted From Landfills

There are many ways to divert waste, each with advantages and challenges. Some common sustainability challenges exist: some methods are more costly, some are more sustainable, and others offer potential financial benefits. The most effective waste diversion programs involve a mix of the following solutions:

Source Reduction

Waste source reduction, often known as waste minimization, involves preventing waste generation at its origin. It focuses on reducing the quantity or toxicity of materials in products and packaging through design improvements, material substitution, and efficient manufacturing processes. The goal is to minimize overall waste generation, conserve resources, and decrease environmental impact by emphasizing sustainable production and consumption practices. Streamlining supply chains to eliminate unnecessary journeys or using recycled paper are examples of source reduction.

Return to Supplier

Return-to-supplier programs positively impact landfill diversion by facilitating product returns from consumers or retailers to the manufacturer. New customers can refill and reuse propane tanks, beer growlers and kegs, and car batteries. Rather than discarding unsold or defective items into the waste stream, manufacturers can reclaim and refurbish them. This approach extends the lifespan of products, prevents them from entering landfills, and encourages a closed-loop system. 

Businesses can encourage return programs by offering refunds or charging deposits on reusable items. Efficiently managing returned products, companies contribute to sustainable practices. This, in turn, helps decrease landfill loads and promote resource conservation through reusing, refurbishing, or recycling items instead of disposing of them. This efficient management enhances environmental responsibility and supports a circular economy mindset. 


By incorporating recycled materials into manufacturing processes, less demand is placed on virgin resources, reducing environmental degradation. Recycling conserves natural resources and minimizes the volume of waste sent to landfills. This practice contributes to sustainable waste management by reducing dependence on landfills. It also promotes a circular economy in which materials are reused, lessening the environmental impact of traditional disposal methods.

Repair or Refurbishment

Electronics like computers and smartphones can often be repaired or upgraded instead of replaced, extending the life of the device and reducing e-waste. Some companies implement take-back programs. Customers can return old electronic devices for recycling or refurbishment to ensure the responsible disposal and recovery of valuable materials.

Biological Treatment

Biological treatment utilizes natural processes to manage organic waste. Through aerobic or anaerobic digestion, organic materials are broken down and converted into beneficial byproducts like compost and biogas. Biological treatment promotes sustainable waste management and minimizes environmental impact. It also plays a vital role in diverting biodegradable waste away from traditional landfill disposal.

Incineration and Waste-to-Energy (WtE)

While burning garbage has been frowned upon in recent years, Waste-to-Energy (WtE) incineration is becoming a promising method of waste diversion. Using methods like incineration, WtE facilities burn municipal solid waste to generate power, typically electricity or heat. This approach reduces the volume of waste entering landfills and harnesses the waste's calorific value to produce renewable energy. However, it requires careful consideration of environmental impacts and adherence to emission control measures to ensure a balance between waste reduction and energy production.

How Are Landfill Diversion Rates Calculated?

Calculating the landfill diversion rate involves determining the percentage of waste diverted from landfills compared to the total waste generated. The formula is: Diversion Rate = (diverted materials / total waste generated) × 100

Here's a breakdown:

Diverted Materials: The weight or volume of materials that are recycled, composted, or otherwise diverted from the landfill.

Total Waste Generated: The total weight or volume of all waste produced by the company.

For example, if a company generates 1,000 tons of waste and diverts 400 tons through recycling and composting, the landfill diversion rate would be 40%.

Monitoring and improving the diversion rate over time can be a key performance indicator of a company's sustainability and waste reduction commitment.  It also provides insights into the effectiveness of waste management programs and initiatives.

Kickoff Your Landfill Diversion Program

As corporate sustainability and ESG programs rise in popularity, businesses across all industries are assessing their waste and byproduct management programs. Many are looking to set zero waste or zero waste to landfill targets soon.

Sound familiar? If your business wants to kick off your landfill diversion program, there’s still plenty of time! Here are some tips to get your landfill diversion program off the ground:

  • Know your current waste and byproduct management program, such as its challenges, opportunities, and value-add to other strategic areas of the business.
  • Outline goals and KPIs for an efficiently managed program (pro tip: go big with a zero-waste-to-landfill target). 
  • Partner with a waste and byproduct management integrator to help reduce your footprint where it matters most.

At Keter Environmental Services, landfill diversion is all we do. Contact us today to schedule a 30-minute demo call and see how we can kickstart your sustainability initiatives.

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