Companies are increasingly finding that striving for zero waste-to-landfill (ZWL) can be a powerful mobilizing sustainability initiative that can also deliver cost savings, provide a new revenue stream, and serve to reinforce an efficient operations mindset. Here is one company's story and some of their lessons learned - The Clorox Company's Burt's Bees division achieved ZWL across their administrative, manufacturing, and distribution operations in April 2010.
Zero waste-to-landfill (ZWL) is part of a larger zero waste aspiration whereby manufacturers that are exemplars in sustainability strive to eliminate waste throughout the full life cycle of their products. In 2006, the Burt’s Bees business unit set a goal to be zero waste by 2020. Achieving zero solid waste to landfill in its operations in 2010 was an important milestone in this larger journey to zero waste. Here are some of the learnings the Burt’s Bees team garnered from its recent ZWL effort:
Define zero – Surprisingly, a common ZWL standard does not exist so it is important to get very clear about how you define zero. The Zero Waste International Alliance (http://www.zerowaste.org), a non-profit focused on eliminating waste, has previously defined ZWL to be 90% or greater diversion. But companies claiming ZWL today are more typically reporting 100% absolute diversion from landfill rates. These companies, however, usually do not account for waste generated outside their facilities such as the resulting ash when sending waste to a waste-to-energy facility. The Burt’s Bees team decided on a strict definition of zero, which included this remnant ash that usually finds its way to landfills. As a result, they found a firm that turns its non-recyclable, non-compostable materials into an efficient fuel for cement processing, with that residual ash actually then incorporated into the cement itself.
Map out how you are going to get to zero – The Burt’s Bees team looked broadly at all their solid waste by using the term “by-product” which they defined as anything leaving their facility other than a person or saleable finished good. They then created a by-product hierarchy (right) that prioritized how materials should be diverted from landfill. Giving higher value to source reduction and reuse than to composting and recycling, and using waste-to-energy as a last resort provided strong guidance to their path to zero. As a result, today the Burt’s Bees division sends less than 10% of its waste to the more expensive and less eco friendly waste-to-energy destination.
Learning from the Burt’s Bees team’s experience, Clorox, has stipulated that a facility aiming for ZWL must not send more than 10% of its waste to waste-to-energy facilities. Clorox believes that in a ZWL facility, the “smell of the place” should be one of a highly efficient and responsible manager of its waste with low levels of waste and robust composting and recycling infrastructure.
Kick-start your ZWL journey with a high employee involvement dumpster dive – In order to make waste visible and real to all employees, the Burt’s Bees team organized “dumpster dives,” giving everyone the opportunity to get up close and personal with their trash. This exercise involves dumping your trash dumpster onto your parking lot and having your employees literally sort the resulting pile of trash. This eye opening educational exercise showed employees how the majority of this landfill bound trash was actually either compostable or recyclable and resulted in an immediate 50% reduction of trash to landfill volume.
Be firm with your goals but flexible in your tactics – Different facilities require different approaches. In a manufacturing operation, having conveniently placed trash and recycling gaylords where the waste is generated can facilitate higher sorting rates. On the other hand, removing individual under-the-desk trash bins from Burt’s Bees administrative offices and forcing a quick trip to central in-office by-product stations facilitated sorting by taking away a convenient way for employees to throw compostable and recyclable items into their nearby trash bins.
Educate your employees – Even eco-minded employees do not necessarily know how to accurately sort the many waste items one encounters into various recycling, compost and trash streams. Burt’s Bees posted bi-lingual signs with by-product bins showing acceptable materials along with photos. Colored bins were employed and by-product station locations were included in the company’s workplace organization program. It also helped to have a trained group of employee volunteers serving as “trash experts” so that employees could get quick answers to their inevitable sorting questions.
Continuously monitor and measure your progress - ZWL is typically a rather long journey. It took the Burt’s Bees business three years to achieve this at its three facilities, so it is important to provide regular feedback via robust monitoring and measurement in order to see and celebrate progress. A key enabler for the Burt’s Bees team was the “Green Derby” monthly audit of by-product bins which scored the accuracy of sorting waste into composting, recycling and residual trash. A progress report became a standing agenda item at monthly all-employee manufacturing and distribution meetings, and progress was tied to employees’ short-term incentive eligibility. Industrial floor scales were also deployed at each facility to weigh by-products before they were shipped off-site which allowed Burt’s Bees to ensure landfill waste was being reduced as well as diverted.
Leverage your waste diversion partner to achieve your ZWL goal – An important factor in the Burt’s Bees team’s success was enlisting a waste management expert, who intermediates all of its diversion needs with 17 actual service providers. The Burt’s Bees team is also able to leverage the larger waste volumes of this partner for more favorable national contract pricing. If working directly with a recycler, remember that recyclables are commodities and it’s in the recycling firm’s interest to take the high-value, high-volume materials. Don’t hold back in pushing your recycler(s) to “take the good with the bad”. For instance, using your valuable streams (such as cardboard) to incentivize a recycling outlet to take less desirable materials (such as mixed plastic films) can create a win / win for you and your recycler. Finally, keep up to date as non-landfill outlets for by-products are evolving rapidly so what was not possible yesterday may be tomorrow, or even today.
Choose one or a few ZWL pilot sites as a beacon for your entire organization – The Burt’s Bees business has served this function within The Clorox Company. Now, Clorox has the confidence to expand ZWL to other select manufacturing, distribution and administrative facilities. Also, without an internal exemplar like the Burt’s Bees business, it is likely that Clorox would have been satisfied with achieving its current overall goal of reducing solid waste to landfill by 20% by 2013. Today, Clorox is able to see how achieving zero waste is possible which works as an accelerant across the whole enterprise.
Institutionalize your ZWL achievement – Being a ZWL operation is now part of the Burt’s Bees division’s identity. And today, there is no choice but to divert as there are no longer trash compacters or dumpsters on any Burt’s Bees sites.
This post, by Steve Walker, Manager of Environmental Sustainability, Burt’s Bees, and Bill Morrissey, VP of Environmental Sustainability, The Clorox Company, was originally published on the Green to Gold Business Playbook website.