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Becoming a zero-waste company: seven ideas to eliminate waste from your business
Reaching zero waste will make your business more environmentally responsible, and it could benefit your bottom line, too.
One way to take your sustainability efforts to the next level is to cut out waste completely from your operations.
Doing so would not only reduce your company’s emissions and boost its environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) credentials – which is increasingly important to individual and business customers – it could also help you save costs, for example on waste management.
Plus, cutting out waste now could put you ahead of any regulatory changes in your market. Single-use plastics in packaging, for example, are becoming more tightly regulated around the world.1
Here are seven ideas to help set you on the path to zero-waste success.
What is zero waste?
According to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZIWA), zero waste is: “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health”.2
To achieve certification by a group such as ZIWA, companies should already be diverting a minimum of 90% of the waste they accumulate away from landfill or incineration.3
Conduct a waste audit
A good place to begin is by assessing the problem by identifying and reviewing your current waste streams. This will give you starting point to track progress against, and also allow you to spot where action is needed.4 If your audit reveals you are routinely throwing away a certain material, that could be a sign you need to order less of it, which could bring costs down.
Set SMART goals
As with any big system change, becoming a zero-waste business won’t happen overnight. But working towards a series of targets can help keep you on track to achieve the overall objective. Ensure that the goals you set are SMART: specific; measureable; attainable; relevant; and time-bound.5
Engage all your stakeholders
Meeting your zero-waste goal could mean getting your staff, suppliers and customers on board, as they might be required to make behavioural changes too. You could start by making sure your employees know why these changes are important, offer training on new processes, and keep them regularly updated with progress.4 You may also be able to ask suppliers for support, for example by helping you to eliminate packaging waste from the goods they provide you.6 And customers could be encouraged to ensure the products are reused, returned or recycled in a way that aligns with your commitments.
Transforming a business to eliminate waste can take time and patience, so start with the changes that are easiest to implement. Being able to see immediate progress can help to keep your team motivated to achieve the end goal.
Make products that last longer
To minimise the waste generated by your business, as well as the raw materials it needs, your products’ lifecycle should be as long as possible. That means making sure that goods are durable and can be repaired and reused. Achieving that could mean switching to sturdier materials, offering repair services, or even running a buy-back and resale programme.7 According to a survey by Accenture, half of respondents said they were willing to pay more for products designed to be reused and recycled.8
"According to a survey by Accenture, half of respondents said they were willing to pay more for products designed to be reused and recycled.8"
Find alternative uses for waste
It’s almost inevitable that you will produce some waste streams, so try to think creatively about what to do with them. Other businesses may be able to use any material offcuts or by-products created in your operations, for example. Or could you make use of any waste within your own business, for example composting organic materials on site? Aim to send waste to recycling only as a last resort.7
Redesign your products – or your business model
Rather than thinking about what to do with the waste your existing products create, you may see better results by redesigning them from the ground up with your zero-waste goals as a guide.9 Or, could you look to make changes to your business model to help reduce waste? One example is fashion retailers taking back old clothes in their stores to recycle or reuse – and often luring customers with rewards for doing so.10 Or you could consider leasing products instead of selling; once a customer no longer needs an item, you can lease it to the next customer or use the component parts to make a new product.11
Disclaimer: The information provided on this page does not constitute legal, tax, finance, accounting, or trade advice, but is designed to provide general information relating to business and commerce. The FedEx Small Business Hub content, information, and services are not a substitute for obtaining the advice of a competent professional, for example a licensed attorney, law firm, accountant, or financial adviser.
1. The drive toward sustainability in packaging—beyond the quick wins | McKinsey, Jan 2020
2. Zero waste definition | Zero Waste International Alliance
3. Zero waste business certification | Zero Waste Business Alliance
4. How to Achieve Zero Waste in Your Business | The Balance SMB, 2018
5. Smart Goals | Mind Tools
6. Going zero waste – How small steps add up at the Ritz Carlton, San Francisco | Great Forest
7. Recycling and the circular economy: what’s the difference? | Ellen MacArthur Foundation
8. More than Half of Consumers Would Pay More for Sustainable Products Designed to Be Reused or Recycled | Accenture, 2019
9. Redesigning medium-life bulky products from scratch: Niaga | Ellen MacArthur Foundation
10. Where to recycle your old or unwanted clothes and beauty products on the high street | Independent
11. Organic jeans for rent: MUD Jeans | Ellen MacArthur Foundation
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