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The 6-Step Action Plan to Reach Your Sustainability Goals

Waste Harmonics

According to recent figures reported by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. generates roughly 4.9 pounds of waste per person, per day. That translates into just under 300 million tons of solid waste generated each year. That’s a lot of waste!

In recent years, consumers have started demanding more sustainable business practices—from the companies they do business with, to the things they purchase, to the products they use in their homes—they want to support companies that not only vocalize their sustainable business practices, but act on them, too.

With Earth Day coming up on April 22, there’s never been a better time to explore and invest in your company’s green initiatives. Whether your goal is to reach zero waste by next year or next month, when it comes to your waste portfolio and recycling practices, there are some simple steps you can follow to better understand and reduce your environmental impact, carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

Step 1: Establish Your Baseline

Before you can determine specific and measurable goals for your sustainable waste practices, you first need to understand your current baseline and diversion percentage.

Take a holistic look at your operations, including recycling-to-waste ratios, to identify the percentage of recyclable materials that are being diverted from the landfill, when possible. Look at the recycling practices you already have in place. Upon review, is your recycling to waste percentage high or low? Are recyclable materials being recycled properly or do they end up in the trash often?

Internal reflection and knowledge of your baseline will help guide your team in creating realistic and attainable short- and long-term diversion goals that will reduce impact over time.

Step 2: Analyze Waste Streams

Once you’ve established your baseline, take the process one step further by undergoing a waste audit. An audit will provide the big picture, determining the materials you’re generating most often and then assigning them into “streams” or categories.

For example, are you generating roughly 90% trash or 90% recyclable materials? Depending on where those percentages net out, your waste program, practices and disposal equipment may need to be adjusted.

An audit can identify attainable sustainability goals while also optimizing which waste removal or recycling program may best suit your business.

Step 3: Confirm Compliance

Rules and regulations for waste removal and recycling vary state to state, so it’s critical to ensure you’re in compliance with your local regulations.

The tri-state area and California tend to have more comprehensive regulations compared to other areas throughout the country, but these regulations are continuously in flux and subject to change.

Work with a trusted Managed Waste Service Provide (MWSP) to review your current portfolio, ensuring compliance with all state and local mandates. A “green partner” or MWSP can also help to proactively research and communicate upcoming mandates, providing further education and service recommendations if locations are non-compliant.

Step 4: Set Diversion Goals

After establishing your baseline, undergoing a waste audit and ensuring you’re in compliance with state and local mandates, you can set definitive and measurable diversion goals.

Some examples may include:

  • Reduce waste by 50% in the next 6 months
  • Reach 95% landfill diversion by 2025
  • Earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in the next two years
  • Publicize ESG reports in the next year

Specific goals may vary based on the size of your company, but it’s important that all progress toward these goals is visible and attainable. A MWSP can provide waste reduction recommendations and innovative solutions to help your business stay on track.

Step 5: Commit to Education

“Set it and forget it” is not a phrase that should apply to your waste and recycling program. Explore opportunities for continued education and training on sustainability and recycling practices to ensure successful implementation of your business’s recycling program. Furthermore, foster an internal culture of involvement and action toward sustainability initiatives. Establish an internal “green team” committed to these efforts and to holding your business accountable.

Step 6: Review and Reset

Once your recycling program is in place, engage in periodic evaluations to ensure diversion goals are met. Leverage the technology of a MWSP to receive real-time data analysis of your waste streams and recycling program performance. Data transparency will help you make informed decisions about how best to resize or optimize your services among industry shifts and as your business evolves.

Ultimately, to operate your business with the lowest environmental impact possible, strive for continuous improvement to your sustainability commitment.