Waste reduction and diversion not only improves the bottom line, but also prepares an organization for long-term success in an ever-changing market.

Tad Radzinski and Jim Mellentine


Changing consumer preferences, supply chain requirements and emerging regulations are driving companies to reevaluate current business practices and implement more efficient strategies. With growing attention on responsible material management, many businesses are facing increasing pressure to reduce waste generated from operations and to divert waste from landfills. In an increasingly resource constrained market, companies are also challenged with rising disposal and material costs. Recognizing that waste equates to lost resources and profits, forward-thinking organizations understand that reducing all forms of waste is crucial to an effective and sustainable business strategy.


Measuring to Manage: Understanding Material Flows

Each company is unique, and there is no “standard solution” to reducing waste; however, as with any other performance metric, the first step in managing waste is to measure it. Evaluating material flows and waste streams is critical to fully understand operations and identify inefficiencies. Material flow analysis tracks inputs and outputs of materials throughout the organization. Characterizing and quantifying these material movements over time reveals trends in resource use and waste sources. Studying these trends identifies opportunities for improvements and can be used to prioritize inefficiencies.


It is important to use a broad definition of waste when evaluating opportunities for improvement. Specific waste audits and analysis combined with higher level reviews of process requirements— including energy, water, and other resources—maximizes the potential for improving overall efficiency and reducing costs. Benchmarking operations can lead to innovation across the board, so performing a more comprehensive analysis is vital to improving performance.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Old Adage Supports the New Bottom Line

Once material flows and waste streams are quantified, the simplest and most significant opportunity for cost savings and waste reduction is preventing waste at the source. Source reduction aims to change processes in an attempt to limit or eliminate waste being created. This can involve upgrading machinery, altering employee behavior, changing ingredient formulas or even adding, adjusting, or removing process steps. Since a waste stream analysis illuminates how the steps in a business process are connected, implementing an aggressive waste prevention program can lead to compounding reductions across the entire system.


Even with an effective source reduction plan in place, it is rare for a process to generate zero waste. Finding a potential use for any remaining waste can provide considerable cost savings, or even additional revenue. With resource constraints and rising material costs affecting all levels of the supply chain across industries globally, new outlets for waste materials are emerging. Many organizations are capitalizing on opportunities to source raw materials from waste streams, both internally and externally. Reusing scrap internally lessens the need for virgin materials, and using external recycled material can often be cheaper than procuring new virgin material. Identifying specific waste streams that can be sold as raw material to other organizations transforms a disposal cost into a new revenue stream.


Through collaboration with suppliers, customers and sometimes even competitors, companies often find creative solutions to limit waste. For instance, businesses can work with suppliers to develop reusable packaging that can be returned and reused. Materials like pallets, containers, protective wraps and more can be collected and sent back to vendors, reducing costs for both parties. Similar agreements can be developed with customers. Even though shipping materials aren’t always accounted for in a company’s waste stream, reclaiming packaging materials from customers can reduce production costs and lifecycle impacts.


Waste Handlers: Partners in Promoting Performance

After exhausting opportunities for source reduction and outlets for usable waste, organizations can further divert waste using an appropriate handler. Depending on the specific needs of the organization and the materials to be disposed, there are several available options for diverting waste from landfill. Varying methods of disposal used by waste handlers  include processing material and selling to third parties; composting; anaerobic digestion with energy recovery; and waste-to-energy for non-recyclable and not economically recoverable materials.


Selecting the right waste handling vendor is critical. Companies often look for waste handlers that share a waste diversion vision, since these handlers stand to profit from helping clients meet diversion goals. Effective communication and collaboration is essential to maximizing benefits for both waste handlers and waste producers. As innovative recycling and disposal techniques continue to emerge, waste handlers will play an increasingly important role in achieving waste diversion rates.


Education: Critical Catalyst for Change

Even a well-designed waste diversion system will fail if people do not follow it. As one of the most important facets, the people involved in and managing the process must fully understand and support the waste diversion program. Similar to any significant organizational change, education is a critical piece in implementing a successful waste strategy. Training your team on new procedures and monitoring progress is necessary to make a smooth transition to the new system. Getting employees engaged in the program delivers a faster return on investment and can foster further innovation with fresh ideas.


Ongoing Benchmarking: Tracking Performance, Setting New Targets

Continuous tracking of material flows and waste diversion is key to ensuring a program is operating effectively. As time progresses, trends and usage data can help identify additional efficiency opportunities and provide running metrics to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Monitoring ongoing performance can also be used to quantify return on investment and justify capital improvement measures. Additionally, sharing goals and performance information with employees and stakeholders helps build support for initiatives and inspires further action.


Marketing Waste Diversion: Meeting Customer Demands

Once an organization has successfully implemented a new waste diversion strategy, it may want to tell the world. Responding to growing concerns in supply chain and customer requirements, companies can leverage waste diversion to increase sales. Many companies are choosing to have facility waste diversion rates certified by an independent third party. This substantiates accuracy in their claims and strengthens credibility. In many instances, marketing a commitment to sustainability to customers and potential customers has been shown to increase market share and generate new sales. This is particularly prevalent in high profile consumer markets where producers and service providers tend to be more visible in the eyes of purchasers. Diverting waste not only reduces costs, but also positions an organization as a responsible market leader.


Beyond Diversion: Extended Producer Responsibility

Some organizations’ sustainability goals stretch beyond waste diversion and reduction from operations. As consumers continue to focus more on the end-of-life disposal options of the products they use, companies are capitalizing on implementing Extended Producer Responsibility programs. Collecting end-of-life materials from customers creates a closed loop system where old product is reused to make new products. Closed loop systems developed by Extended Producer Responsibility programs can decrease, and sometimes even eliminate, the need for some virgin materials, drastically improving both environmental and financial impacts. These programs can protect against future material price fluctuations, as well as cement an organization’s position as a sustainable company. With ongoing attention to end-of-life disposition, and as material scarcity looms, more and more companies are finding ways to reclaim used materials and close the loop.


Ensuring Success: Waste Diversion Consultants

While it may seem intuitive to approach waste diversion internally, hiring outside consultants that specialize in waste reduction programs can expedite the process and ensure success. Leveraging years of experience and established best practices, consultants can quickly implement standard methods to reduce or eliminate waste streams as well as develop innovative solutions to specific waste scenarios. Consultants provide an outside perspective to determine often overlooked sources of waste and overall inefficiencies. Assisting organizations at each step of the waste diversion process, consultants are able to maximize results and return on investment.


Higher-level consultants deliver comprehensive solutions beyond waste diversion to improve performance across an organization. Sustainability consultants provide a range of services including lifecycle assessments, sustainability assessments, energy efficiency analysis, and many more that enable companies to reduce impacts and costs throughout all operations. With a holistic view, consultants help organizations prioritize sustainability initiatives to meet goals and experience the highest returns.


As the global economy continues to expand and competition heightens, companies are facing new challenges and looking for innovative ways to succeed. Waste reduction and diversion not only improves the bottom line, but also prepares an organization for long-term success in an ever-changing market.


With 30 years of practical experience, Tad Radzinski, P.E., LEED AP, SFP, is a leading expert in corporate responsibility and environmental management. Through consulting, training and speaking, he has provided hundreds of organizations the insight and tools to revolutionize their business through successful sustainability strategies. Tad is co-founder and president of Sustainable Solutions Corporation (SSC) (Royersford, PA) and provides consultative services to companies in a wide range of global industries. Tad is an adjunct professor at Villanova University, teaching graduate classes in Principles of Sustainable Development, Sustainable Manufacturing, Advanced Life Cycle Assessment and Introduction to Sustainable Product Design, and Sustainable Buildings and Operations. Tad was instrumental in the development of Villanova’s Master of Science Degree in Sustainable Engineering. He also serves as the Chief Certification Officer at GreenCircle Certified, LLC, providing third-party verification of environmental claims. He can be reached at [email protected].


Jim Mellentine, PMP, LCACP, LEED Green Associate is the Corporate Sustainability Manager at Sustainable Solutions Corporation. He has worked with dozens of manufacturers and industry associations to design and implement their sustainability programs.  Jim has conducted sustainability assessments and waste diversion projects at multiple facilities, identifying operations improvements that save money and reduce environmental impacts in the areas of energy, water, materials and waste. In doing so, he has helped numerous customers across industries understand the drivers of environmental impacts from their products and enable effective product design and operations improvements. Jim is also an Adjunct Professor in Philadelphia University’s Masters of Sustainable Design program. He can be reached at [email protected].


For more information, call (610) 569-1047, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.sustainablesolutionscorporation.com.


Do you want to hear more? Tad Radzinski, former EPA Waste Minimization Program National Expert, and Annie Bevan, Certification and Operations Manager at GreenCircle Certified, LLC, will be leading a webinar in which they will share key strategies and case studies to help organizations eliminate waste, achieve waste diversion or zero waste goals, and effectively communicate waste diversion success. Take your waste diversion program to the next level by joining this industry-leading webinar on April 16 at 2:00pm EST. Register now at www.sustainablesolutionscorporation.com/web-waste.html.