There's More Than One Zero

October 2, 2015

In the ever-evolving nomenclature of sustainability, the concept of “zero waste” is an especially tricky subject, one whose definition varies significantly depending on what company you are talking to. I recently spoke to the Sustainable Manufacturer Network about this very topic, to help break down the differences between Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWL) programs, certifications and goals.

To start, only about 50 percent of the Global Fortune 500 have a waste goal at all, while only seven percent (37) have a ZWL goal. Of those 37 companies, ZWL boundaries take a variety of shapes and sizes, including:

•    Establish resource recycling system and become a company with “zero emission of waste”
•    Maintain zero landfill waste performance
•    Eliminate landfill waste
•    Zero waste direct to landfill from stores
•    Transition all manufacturing plants to 'zero waste' facilities… Actually it is not “zero waste” but…

Only 0.4 percent – or two companies – have an Zero Waste goal or vision that actually means zero waste, as in absolutely no waste by-products at all: Honda and Bridgestone America’s Tires4ward Program. Honda’s vision is to completely close the loop for all resources and bring product life-cycle waste down to zero, while Bridgestone America’s Tires4ward Program goal is to achieve a waste-free tire industry. Both visions are within an open timeframe.

PivotGoals helps clear the clutter

To get down in the weeds on the Global Fortune 500’s waste goals, a quality resource is PivotGoals. An initiative of Winston Eco-Strategies, PivotGoals is a database of the environmental, social, and governance targets set by the Global Fortune 500. The database is searchable by a number of criteria, including ESG (“Climate,” “Water,” “Human Rights”), Macro-Industry (“Commodities”), Micro-Industry (“Metals”), Value Chain (“End of Life”), Goal Type, (“Specific & Dated”) or Absolute/Intensity.
Of the 3700+ goals in PivotGoals, 11 percent (384) are waste goals. This is a high percentage, considering there are 29 categories (and if all categories had equal amount of goals one would expect that waste goals would be only 3.5 percent of the goals).  This clearly shows that waste stands out among the crowd as an environmental priority for companies.

Navigating the ZWL certification landscape

There are four certification program options available to companies currently, including the UL Environment ZWL Certification, the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council Certification, the NSF-ISR Landfill-free Certification and the Green Circle Waste Diversion from Landfill Certification. Variables between these certifications are the levels of diversion from the landfill, acceptable uses of the waste diverted and other miscellaneous requirements. Here is a quick “ZWL certification 101” to assist in your company’s search for the certification that’s right for your waste management needs and strategy.

UL Environment Zero Waste to Landfill Certification

Levels of diversion from landfill:
•    Zero Waste to Landfill for facilities that consistently achieve a landfill waste diversion rate of 100 percent
•    Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill for facilities that have achieved a landfill diversion rate of 98 percent or greater
•    Landfill Waste Diversion for facilities that have achieved a landfill diversion rate of greater than or equal to 80 percent

Acceptable uses of the waste diverted: 
Energy creation from incineration, reuse, recycling and composting

Miscellaneous requirements: Two-part process composed of on-site visits/audits and document evaluation. An audit includes an evaluation of transaction records, shipping records, and waste management records, interviews with employees, and walks around plant floors and loading docks. Once a company succeeds in obtaining a certification or validation, ULE reserves the right for random audits to ensure that companies maintain their waste to landfill diversion claims.

Company example: Bridgestone earned the world’s first UL Environment (ULE) 100 percent Zero Waste to Landfill certification at the Bridgestone Wilson, NC, passenger tire plant.

U.S. Zero Waste Business Council Certification

Level of diversion from landfills: 90 percent overall diversion from landfill and incineration for non-hazardous wastes

Acceptable uses of the waste diverted:
•    Discarded materials are reduced, reused, recycled, composted or recovered for productive use in nature or the economy at biological temperatures and pressures.
•    Materials can be processed above ambient biological temperatures (>200° F) to recover energy from the 10 percent residual, but they do not count as part of the 90 percent diversion.
•    Reused materials (office furniture, pallets, paper, etc.) are eligible to count as part of the 90 percent diversion requirement.

Miscellaneous requirements: Companies must have a “zero waste” policy in place and meet all federal, state/provincial and local solid waste and recycling regulations.

Company examples: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Whole Foods San Diego County and Fetzer Vineyards

NSF-ISR Landfill-Free Certification

Levels of diversion from landfill: Certifying companies must demonstrate that less than one percent of process waste is being sent to landfills.

Acceptable uses of the waste diverted: Recycling, reuse, composting and incineration from energy creation

Miscellaneous requirements:
•    Company submits an application, receives a quote and signs an agreement for NSF-ISR verification.
•    NSF assigns a verification team.
•    NSF performs a documentation review to determine adequacy and readiness to undergo a verification assessment.
•    NSF conducts an on-site planning (stage 1) audit to determine the level of implementation of processes and the readiness of the facility for the full stage 2 audit, and to collect information to plan the stage 2 audit.
•    NSF conducts an on-site verification (stage 2) audit to verify the landfill-free claim.
•    NSF issues an assessment report and, if applicable, company completes corrective actions to address any program/process issues.
•    NSF issues the certificate, which is valid for one year.
•    NSF performs annual reassessment audits in accordance with requirements.

Company example: Only one example could be found – West Liberty Foods, an Iowa-based foodservice company, which earned landfill-free status for its Tremonton, UT, processing facility.

Green Circle Waste Diversion from Landfill Certification

Levels of diversion from landfill: As seen in ULE certification, there are no specific thresholds, but Green Circle will certify to the exact percentage, as ULE does. Performing a material flow and mass flow analysis, GreenCircle will be able to quantify and certify a percentage of waste that has been diverted from landfills.

Acceptable uses of the waste diverted: Source reduction, recycling, materials returned to suppliers, reuse in same process, reuse in different process, redesign to eliminate waste, processing and selling to third party, composting, anaerobic digestion with energy recovery and Waste-to-Energy (non-recyclable/ not economically recoverable).

Company examples: Merck, Superior Essex and GAF, although none have a percentage level specified.

Why get ZWL certified?

For starters, there are the internal benefits of not only establishing a reporting structure, process and protocol, but also setting a definitive target and team-based, common goal to work toward. A ZWL certification also offers external benefits, such as providing third-party proof or verification of assertions, adding a promotional label that improves reputation and signals to customers and other stakeholders that a company is managing its waste performance and impact. While not all ‘zeros’ are created equal within these certifications, the triple bottom line advantages for companies make the effort anything but a waste.




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