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Sustainable Waste Management: Everything Companies Need to Know

Sustainability is becoming a critical decision-making factor for investors and consumers. As a result, many companies are exploring strategies to minimize waste quantities and lower waste collection expenses. 

Industrial waste often draws significant scrutiny due to its potential environmental risks. However, every sector and industry can benefit from adopting more eco-friendly waste management methods. Here’s what business owners need to know before overhauling their waste management programs for a more sustainable system.

Man Sorting Recyclable Materials

What is Sustainable Waste Management?

In the past, the economy relied on a make-use-dispose model for most markets. For example, automakers sourced and bought new steel, wiring, batteries, and fabric to build each new vehicle. Furniture makers made tables and chairs from bulk lumber; contractors made houses from pallets of brand-new bricks.

Sustainable waste management changes the linear economy. It makes it more circular, bringing useful waste back into production. Rather than starting with raw materials, sustainable waste management begins with renewables. Steel car parts can be melted down and poured into new molds for this year’s model. Lumber and bricks can be reclaimed from construction sites and used in new structures.

Crushed Pop Can

What Are the Tenets of Sustainable Waste Management?

Waste management can be considered sustainable if the handling and disposal of waste materials have minimal negative impacts. These impacts can be environmental, social, and economic impacts.

A sustainable waste management model:

  • Aims to reduce waste generation
  • Keep materials in use for as long as possible
  • Promotes long-term ecological balance
  • Optimizes the use of resources
  • Sees landfills and incineration as a last resort
  • Involves diligent waste tracking and reporting
  • Ensures vendors meet sustainability standards
  • Disposes of waste in an environmentally responsible and socially equitable way
  • Embraces new climate-friendly technologies and energy sources

Can Eco-Friendly Waste Management Systems Save Money?

Switching to sustainable waste management isn’t just good for the planet. It makes financial sense for manufacturers. For one, reusing products from your waste stream saves you money on disposal and waste handling costs. A few more financial benefits include:

  • Tax incentives

    Waste reduction reduces greenhouse gas emissions, directly impacting the carbon tax you pay. In addition, many green initiatives qualify for tax rebates, saving you even more.

  • Supply chain security

    Reusing your own materials lessens dependency on raw materials. Suppose the supply chain is interrupted by adverse weather, scarcity, or labor problems. In that case, your waste products can supplement reserves of virgin materials.

  • Lower procurement costs

    Using waste products instead of purchasing new materials lowers supply costs and leads to greater ROI.

Sustainable waste management has many benefits. But, there’s no single solution that will achieve all of your goals. Good waste management is an ongoing process that needs continual evaluation and tweaking. Consistently tracking your progress ensures the greatest financial rewards.

What Is the Sustainable Waste Management Hierarchy?

The waste management hierarchy, often called the waste hierarchy, is a framework. It focuses on waste management practices that prioritize environmental sustainability and resource conservation. All of the steps in the hierarchy can be applied to many different processes. Each process can help companies save money and lessen its environmental impact.

Waste Management Hierarchy: Prevention, Reuse, Recycling, Recovery, Treatment, and Disposal
  • Prevention

    The top level of the hierarchy is prevention, sometimes called source reduction or simply reduction. This effort aims to reduce waste generation at the source. Common prevention strategies can include:

    • Designing products with fewer materials
    • Reducing packaging
    • Promoting product durability
    • Encouraging responsible consumption patterns

    The goal is to avoid waste creation altogether.

  • Reuse

    The second level of the hierarchy is reuse, which involves finding ways to use products and items again without significant alteration or processing. This can include activities like donating clothing, refurbishing electronics, or using refillable containers. Reuse extends the life of products and reduces the need for new resources. Therefore, reuse should be considered during both the purchasing process and disposal. Companies should also invest in education about how to reuse waste products and ways to incentivize the purchase of reusable materials.

  • Recycling

    Recycling involves collecting and processing waste materials. By turning them into new products, materials stay in use longer. It is an essential step in the hierarchy because it conserves resources, reduces energy consumption, and reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills or incinerators. Materials like paper, glass, plastics, and metals can often be recycled.

  • Recovery

    This level is about turning non-recyclable waste into electricity, heat, or fuel. There are many ways to harness energy from waste products. Examples include waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities, energy collection incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas (LFG) recovery.

    Energy recovery has a lower environmental impact than recycling or reuse. But, it's often better than directly sending waste to landfills. For example, the combustion of unusable materials can offset the fossil fuels that would otherwise be needed to generate power. In addition to providing energy, combustion reduces the volume of waste sent to the landfill.

  • Treatment

    In cases where waste cannot be reused, recycled, or recovered for energy, it may require treatment. This can include various processes to reduce the volume or hazardous nature of waste, such as chemical treatment, bioremediation, or sterilization.

  • Disposal

    The final and least preferred option in the waste hierarchy is disposal, which typically involves sending waste to landfills or incineration facilities without energy recovery. Modern landfill management practices aim to minimize environmental harm. Still, the goal is to reduce reliance on landfills and incineration in favor of higher-ranking options. The waste hierarchy also provides a guide for the life cycle of a waste product. When considering waste material for destruction, we take the following steps in order of priority: we only dispose of it if we cannot reuse, recycle, or turn it into energy.

Big Picture Solutions for Sustainable Waste Management

A successful sustainable waste management program balances between modifying existing waste streams and adopting new waste management practices to the total amount of waste. We set you up for success with our comprehensive strategies, ensuring we leave no opportunities on the table.

An Example Solutions Picture of a Sustainable Waste Management Program
  • Planning

    Waste often begins before a product leaves the conceptual stage. Instead of relying on secondary measures at the end of a product’s life, businesses should examine its entire lifecycle to maximize each phase.

  • Waste Sorting

    Proper waste separation at the source helps facilitate recycling and ensures that different types of waste are managed appropriately.

  • Composting

     Food scraps, leaves, and other organic waste can be composted to produce nutrient-rich soil amendments instead of being sent to landfills or incinerators.

  • Sustainable Packaging

    Reducing excessive packaging and using eco-friendly materials helps minimize waste generated from packaging materials.

  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

    These programs require manufacturers to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products from design to disposal, incentivizing the design of products that are easier to recycle or dispose of sustainably.

  • Landfill Management

    When waste disposal is necessary, sustainable waste management focuses on environmentally responsible landfill design, maintenance, and monitoring to minimize groundwater contamination, gas emissions, and habitat disruption.

  • Full Participation

    Informing your employees, contractors, and suppliers about required waste reduction initiatives and proper waste disposal practices is essential to encourage sustainable behaviors.

  • Tracking and Reporting

    Our proprietary eTrac software aggregates sustainability, operational, and financial data into a single system to facilitate ESG reporting. This application allows you to see your goals and metrics (including your diversion rate and ecological savings) and ensures that all of your waste management decisions are backed by data.

How Can I Make Our Waste Management Systems More Sustainable?

A sustainable waste management system requires a mix of methodologies, planning, and trial and error. That said, some simple tactics exist to repurpose existing waste management strategies into more sustainable models.

  • Empower Employees

    Make your employees active participants in your sustainability plan. Seek input and feedback on sustainable waste management initiatives and consider their suggestions for improvement. Organize waste reduction challenges or contests among employees and promote green commuting options like carpooling, biking, walking, or using public transportation. Publicly acknowledge and reward those who consistently follow sustainable waste management practices.

  • Focus on Efficiency

    Maximizing efficiency and reducing consumption produces less waste. Consider how to get the most out of your products and materials before the end of their life cycle. An easy way to reduce waste is to provide bins for different waste streams (e.g., paper, plastic, glass, organic waste) throughout the workplace. Ensure that employees understand what can and cannot be recycled.

  • Single Out Single-Use

    Single-use disposables are the worst of the linear economic model, becoming waste just hours after achieving their sole purpose. Single-use items should be cut from your company wherever possible. Investing in reusable mugs or water bottles for your employees saves your operational budget and the planet.

  • Recycle or Resell?

    Just because you can’t use your waste doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Selling your non-recyclable or unusable materials to a peer or a company in another industry might be more cost-effective. You and the buyer both benefit. You consume fewer raw materials and create another sustainable production loop.

  • Go Paperless

    Paper is the largest category of waste contributed to landfills. Businesses can reduce paper consumption and cost by embracing paperless options whenever possible. Establish clear printing policies that discourage unnecessary printing and use duplex (double-sided) printing whenever possible. Use secure software for digital contracts and documentation. Provide your customers with digital receipts and invoices and offer direct deposit to employees. Consider using e-books and electronic publications for manuals, reports, subscriptions, and other documents traditionally distributed in print.

  • (Almost) Never Buy New

    Manufacturing and industrial businesses can take advantage of the sheer scale of their operations, trading and bartering used or refurbished materials. If your raw materials require mining, harvesting, refining, or other costly processing, see if your fellow companies use their leftovers.

  • Drives and Donations

    Manufacturing and industrial businesses can take advantage of the sheer scale of their operations, trading and bartering used or refurbished materials. If your raw materials require mining, harvesting, refining, or other costly processing, see if your fellow companies use their leftovers.

Let Us Implement a Sustainable Waste Management System

The right sustainable waste management program for your business depends on your industry, size, location, materials used, and legislative requirements—all of which carry unique challenges. Keter Environmental Services can help devise your best practices for waste management, preserving your company and the environment for years to come. Contact us for a sustainable waste disposal demonstration.

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