funneling compost trash and recycle waste and converting it into money

Taking a closer look at waste management in an effort to improve sustainability and facility bottom lines

Zero waste is a term that’s been cropping up at more and more facilities as organizations dig deeper into what it means to be sustainable. Cities, sports venues, universities and building facilities are incorporating zero waste programs in efforts to both minimize environmental impact and maximize revenue streams. But what exactly does zero waste mean and how can it fit into a facility?

Communities tend to define zero waste differently, depending on their infrastructure and goals. Most agree that a zero waste program maximizes diversion rates, which means it keeps waste out of the landfills and incinerators. Zero waste goals between 90 and 100 percent waste diversion are often touted by organizations with successful programs. This is achieved by considering materials throughout their entire life cycle — planning to recycle, compost, sell, donate and reuse waste materials — and designing facilities to take this mindset into account throughout every state of the product’s cycle.

Stephanie Barger is the director of the Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) Zero Waste program at the U.S. Green Business Council (USGBC). She helps facilities define, pursue and achieve zero waste goals while becoming more resource efficient. TRUE-certified spaces are environmentally responsible and achieve a minimum of 90 percent waste diversion. She works with all kinds of facilities, from small office buildings to large multi-campus complexes, manufacturing plants, farms and retail spaces. Today, the USGBC’s LEED program includes eight credits for waste diversion, purchasing and characterization. This program offers a TRUE Zero Waste certification, which requires a minimum of 90 percent diversion from landfills, incineration and the environment.

“Our program’s focus is not only to separate recycling and composting, but ultimately to get rid of all bins through upstream activities,” says Barger. This is achieved through a four-step process of redesign, reuse, repurchasing and retraining.

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