This year’s series of natural disasters has shown us yet again that no community is safe from global warming and its implications. Scientists claim that though global warming is not the main cause of highly destructive hurricanes such as Harvey, the changes in atmospheric temperature which occur as a result of global warming contribute greatly to intensifying storms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, industry is one of the largest contributors to global warming. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the industrial sector accounts for an estimated 7.6 billion tons of solid wastes each year and in 2010 alone, contributed 21% of the total global greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Industry isn't just affecting the planet by producing unsupportable amounts of waste. It's also creating the conditions for businesses and their supply chains to fail. Studies suggest that pollution has numerous effects on businesses, such as lowering labor productivity and consuming natural resources that take years – even decades – to bring back to their former vitality. Most companies even allocate some budget solely for the transportation of their solid wastes to landfills or recycling plants and the manpower and equipment needed to do so. To address these issues, companies are now looking to integrate Zero Waste solutions into their businesses.
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines Zero Waste as the process of “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.” They add that “implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”
Much of Zero Waste management depends on collaborating with a network of companies in what is called by-product synergy. The process involves using the waste stream of one industry as a resource for another – the waste stream of which may also be used by a third, entirely different industry and so on. Dow Chemical Company, after participating in a study in 2005, reported that up to $15 million worth of costs per annum could potentially be saved with the help of by-product synergy. DuPont USA, which adapted the Zero Waste approach and reduced its solid wastes from 40,000 tons in 2008 to zero tons in 2011, was also able to create an entirely separate source of revenue by grinding fragments of corian to be used as a road aggregate.
Since industries are only starting to realize the benefits of Zero Waste management, there is no single approach to carrying it out. Various businesses have tried their hand at implementing Zero Waste policies, and many innovative solutions have come out of their efforts. By replicating models that proved extremely successful in some of its factories, Unilever managed to achieve zero waste to landfill in over 600 of its operating facilities across 70 countries. Their efforts – and the remarkable environmental impact of their decision to pursue Zero Waste – represent an industry-leading achievement in terms of how big businesses are rethinking their social responsibilities.Today, as more businesses start to understand the long-term benefits of reducing waste, numerous investments are being made to rethink the way waste is managed. Not only does this responsible approach cut costs and even increase revenue - even communities benefit from it as it promotes economic development by introducing new job opportunities and improving air quality. Zero Waste proves that one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.