Setting zero-waste-to-landfill targets is now seen as a business imperative, especially for manufacturers that are heavily reliant on raw materials. Diverting waste from landfill can not only reduce waste disposal costs and CO2 emissions, but also generate new revenue streams — either from the reselling of recycled materials or through renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) from waste-to-energy plants which are starting to emerge.
Having a zero waste policy also places an emphasis on resource productivity, enabling businesses to identify and drive improvements in areas besides waste management, e.g., procurement, product design, logistics and supplier management. This can lead to greater efficiencies and savings both internally and down the value chain. McKinsey estimates the global resource productivity opportunity to be worth $2.9 trillion by 2030.
In taking the first steps, it’s important to think of waste as having value and to track it accordingly, like an asset, starting from raw material input to final destination whether that be landfill, energy recovery, recycling, reuse, or remanufacture. All waste streams in a plant need to be recognized and categorized to determine accurate arising data.
Once identified, each waste stream should be audited, taking account the origin, composition, and volume generated over a set period. Auditing helps inform a baseline assessment against which future waste impacts can be tracked and compared to gauge progress and benchmark performance.
The more granular this approach, the better. Whirlpool Corporation, for example, has a target to achieve zero waste-to-landfill across all manufacturing sites by 2022. It tracks 55 individual waste streams, from cardboard packaging to specific by-products including paint solids and porcelain dust.
By monitoring and analyzing this data through an integrated, centralized platform, Whirlpool has achieved zero waste status in three of its Brazil factories two years earlier than anticipated. In addition, the company has identified over 20 million pounds of corrugated cardboard waste — in its Ohio plants alone. Recycling this material is expected to deliver Whirlpool savings of more than $1 million over the next three years.
Waste minimization is key to any zero waste program; it’s where significant cost savings can made, but may require changes in production processes or management systems. Factory employees are well-placed to help identify how working practices can be improved, so it’s important they are involved. As ‘green champions’, employees can facilitate ground-level action.
Dealing with multiple waste streams can be daunting so consider targeting hot spots first — these streams that have the biggest impacts in terms of disposal cost and volume, pollution, or carbon. Look to segregate any recyclable material, and see if there are opportunities to get multiple sites under one waste contract to streamline and reduce cost.
Manufacturers with advanced zero waste programs such as Unilever and P&G are now looking to create additional value by adopting more innovative, circular approaches. This includes taking back waste materials into their supply chains or, in the case of the pulp and paper industry, reclaiming heat from production processes to generate onsite power.
These strategies are increasingly important in light of rising energy and raw material costs. Global developments, such as China’s recent ban on waste imports, are also forcing companies to rethink how they deal with discarded material.
Having an effective zero waste program can accelerate decarbonization efforts and help manufacturers meet wider goals such as science-based targets (SBTs), particularly Scope 3 targets covering downstream emissions from waste management. There are various tools available to help track waste emissions; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WARM model is one useful resource.
Working towards zero waste helps companies stay ahead of legislation as well. The waste-carbon agenda is set to become increasingly important in future years as regulators start to scrutinize how better waste management can contribute to a low-carbon economy, through policy frameworks like the U.K.’s Clean Growth Strategy.